Do you enjoy solving problems and puzzles? Are you interested in knowing what makes things work? Do you have an inquisitive mind? Are you a team player? If your answer is yes to most of these questions, why not reach for the sky and plan a career in aerospace! A high-tech and fast-changing branch of engineering, aerospace is regarded as one of the toughest fields in the world that offers not only a huge scope for innovation and development but also opportunities for high job satisfaction and excellent compensation.
Aerospace engineering deals with the design, construction, development, testing and manufacture of aircrafts, spacecrafts, missiles, military planes, space shuttles, satellites and hovercrafts—in other words, vehicles/systems that are meant for atmospheric and space environments. Aerospace engineers work within a team of other engineers to develop new technologies for use in aviation, defence systems and space exploration, often specialising in such areas as structural design, guidance, navigation and control, instrumentation and communication, or production methods. Those who work with aircrafts are called aeronautical engineers, while aerospace engineers working with the craft that operates outside of the earth’s atmosphere are known as astronautical engineers.
Let’s delve a little deeper into what a career in aerospace and aeronautics could mean for you and what kind of growth in remuneration as well as roles and responsibilities you can expect from this field.
“Aerospace engineering is a growing field and the current trend indicates that it is bound to grow very rapidly in the coming days.”
— K.P. Sinhamahapatra, professor and head of aerospace engineering department at IIT Kharagpur
“Aerospace engineering is a growing field and the current trend indicates that it is bound to grow very rapidly in the coming days. There is a huge scope of innovation and development in this field. The growth prospects appear to be quite high,” opines K.P. Sinhamahapatra, professor and head of aerospace engineering department at IIT Kharagpur.
The US continues to lead the world aerospace market, with its most profitable sector being manufacturing. According to the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the number of production job opportunities in the manufacturing sector there has increased significantly last year and will continue to do so in years to come.
“Though aerospace is one of the highest paying fields in the US currently, in India, this field is emerging slowly,” Sinhamahapatra adds.
Dr P. Sriram, professor and head, department of aerospace engineering, IIT Madras, shares, “With the overall growth in the economy, air travel is experiencing a boom and this will be fed by more aviation infrastructure including airports, aircraft and other related items. Aircraft fleet planning and maintenance will also become a major business. Aeronautical engineers will find jobs in all these sectors.”
To give a very specific example, China has witnessed tremendous economic growth and the aviation industry is booming there; we can expect a parallel growth in India also. There is now made-in-China Airbus A320 airplane, which is being used by Chinese airlines. Estimates are that China will be buying about 150 aircrafts a year for the next 20 years or so. The global production of aircrafts in this class is 700-800 per year, so this 150 represents a significant global market. We can expect a somewhat similar development in India over the next 10-20 years.
Design and analysis jobs involve abstract modelling and complex calculations, so one needs to be very comfortable with those
— Dr P. Sriram, professor and head, department of aerospace engineering,IIT Madras
The present offset business (when any Indian airline buys an aircraft from Boeing, Airbus etc, the aircraft vendor is required to outsource some fraction of the purchase value from India) is expected to grow and smoothly merge into an Airbus China type activity. With more planes in the sky, more operations and maintenance will be required. So these areas will also grow and become major employers.
However, most of the aerospace-related companies and research organisations are still in the public sector.
How to get started?
For a career in aerospace engineering/aeronautics, one requires four to seven years of college study following high school. To enter this field, the minimum requirement is a four-year bachelor’s degree.
“BE/B.Tech, ME/M.Tech, MS and PhD programmes are available at about 75 institutions across the country—almost all in the private sector, with only about half a dozen in the government sector,” says Prof. Sriram.
Amongst Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the four at Madras, Mumbai, Kanpur and Kharagpur offer courses in aerospace engineering. The Department of Aerospace Engineering at each of these IITs offers four-year B.Tech, five-year dual degree (B.Tech and M.Tech), two-year M.Tech, MS and PhD degrees.
Besides these four, Punjab Engineering College at Chandigarh and Madras Institute of Technology offer various courses in aerospace engineering. A good number of private engineering colleges too have come up across the country, namely, Amity Institute of Aerospace Engineering Research and Studies (UP), IIAEIT (Pune), Indian Institute of Aeronautical Engineering (IIAE) at Dehradun, SRM University (Chennai), VSM Institute of Aerospace Engineering & Technology (Bengaluru), Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Institute of Technology (Gujarat), Hindustan Institute of Technology & Science (Chennai) and Noorul Islam University (Tamil Nadu).
The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has also started a B.Tech programme in aeronautical engineering in ‘on campus’ mode. Pune-based Aeronautical Engineering and Research Organisation (AERO) has developed course curriculum to facilitate the programme.
Coming to the fee structure, IITs and other government colleges charge Rs 200,000-300,000 for the four-year course, while private institutions may charge upward of Rs 500,000. At IITs, this includes hostel accommodation and mess charges. Indian Institute of Space Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, does not charge any fees for a course in aerospace engineering; even messing is free.
“All five-year dual-degree students and two-year M.Tech students get MHRD scholarship of Rs 8000 per month. Some of them get other sponsored scholarships (from Boeing, GE, Honeywell, etc) of higher values. All doctoral students get scholarship to the tune of Rs 14,000 per month for the first two years and Rs 15,000 per month for the next two years (MHRD recently announced an increase in these figures to Rs 18,000 and Rs 20,000, respectively). Most of the undergraduate students also get either state or national or various institute scholarships. There are many endowment and sponsored scholarships (from DRDO, Boeing, etc) for the undergraduates as well. Many of these scholarships are about two-three times the yearly expenses of the students,” says Prof. Sinhamahapatra of IIT Kharagpur.
The big picture: know your role
The aerospace industry provides you with a number of career options from engineers, scientists and technicians upstream to other downstream business management roles—whereby you can pick a job role matching your area of interest. Most of the roles, however, can be grouped under some broad categories: managers, analysts, consultants, scientists, field engineers and design engineers.
Those who are interested in R&D can design a satellite launcher, test the latest environment-friendly turbine or create the latest fighter plane as part of the production team. You may also consider joining the human resources team of a large aerospace manufacturer to develop strategies for attracting, recruiting and retaining skilled employees.
During the design process of an aircraft, the aerodynamicist works hard with other design engineers to make sure that the airplane moves easily through the air. The design engineer, on the other hand, decides how long a plane has to be to hold a certain number of people, how wide it should be, where the wings need to be and how strong the materials should be.
As an electronics engineer, you can design the sensors and connections that tell the pilot of an aircraft that things are fine or that there is a problem. Mathematicians are also hired by the aerospace industry and if you are wondering why, these are the ones who develop the math formulae that engineers use to design their work. The physicist is another behind-the-scenes part of a design team, analysing a scientific problem for the aircraft such as overcoming the heat barrier or computing a trajectory.
Delving a little deeper, we can group major recruiters in this field under three broad categories.
“The compensation package is dependent on the domain knowledge and nature of experience that the person carries.”
— M.M.T. Nambi, vice president-aviation and business consulting at Ramco Systems
The first category is the government/public sector, which includes organisations like ISRO, DRDO, HAL, Air India and National Laboratories.
Then there is the private/IT sector, which includes major engineering companies like Ashok Leyland and Godrej—these firms now have divisions dealing with the aerospace industry and are also recruiting. Earlier, there were small IT companies that specialised in analysis jobs for MNC clients like Boeing and Airbus, but now IT majors like TCS, Wipro and Ramco have also got into this field.
The third category can be MNCs as several multinational firms have set up their operations in India. GE has a large operation in Bengaluru and is probably the largest in this group. Others include Honeywell, Safran, Cessna, Volvo, Airbus, and Boeing-specialised software companies like Ansys & Fluent, Fluidyn and Cd-Adapco.
Explains Prof. Sriram, “Aeronautical engineers deal with the design and analysis of aircrafts, while aerospace engineers deal with aircrafts and space-crafts. In the Indian context, maintenance is also included, though traditionally, aviation (airline and airport operations) and maintenance are considered separate; to give an example, Tata and Volvo design and manufacture buses while the buses are operated and maintained by other road transport companies. The job categories are parallel to this—HAL, DRDO and ISRO design and produce aircrafts and spacecrafts, so these employ aerospace engineers to design and build these aircrafts and spacecrafts. Air India or other airlines operate the aircrafts and they have job opportunities in aircraft maintenance, which means keeping the aircraft in proper condition so it can be operated safely.
“Though aircraft maintenance is a separate specialisation and requires qualifying through licensing exams conducted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), aeronautical engineers would have covered all the theory portions of these exams and can take on these exams after some practical training.”
IT companies like TCS, Infosys and Wipro regularly recruit aerospace engineers. In addition, aerospace engineers can find jobs in automobile, construction and manufacturing companies. Aerospace students even find jobs in finance and oil MNCs. Most of these non-core jobs earn much higher pay and are preferred by the students, particularly undergraduate students.
Presently, only a few companies in India work in the field of aeronautics. As a consequence, the number of jobs in the core sector is relatively less. Also, many of these jobs are related to R&D, where higher qualification and experience are preferred. As a result, many of the graduates take up jobs that are neither in the core sectors nor related to the core field. However, some private Indian companies are coming up and various foreign and multinational companies are trying to expand their work in the field of aerospace in India. So the number of jobs will definitely increase in the near future.
Dr M.R. Patkar, director, Indian Institute for Aeronautical Engineering and Information Technology (IIAEIT), Pune, too brushes aside misconceptions that aerospace/aeronautical engineers get jobs only in airlines or aircraft-manufacturing units. “The aerospace engineers from our institute have joined IT companies and also the knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) companies. IT companies specialising in this domain need aerospace engineers, so do other aircraft-related outsourcing companies,” he shares.
This field has enough provisions for not only learning but also earning well. The starting salary for a fresher is typically Rs 300,000-500,000 per annum with impressive year-to-year salary hikes.
Dr Patkar elaborates, “As far as remunerations are concerned, the aerospace engineers would get high-end jobs and hence higher salaries than any other discipline of engineering. We could get the jobs to the fresher to the tune of Rs 300,000 per annum. The rise in this discipline is very high in the private sector.”
Prof. Sriram agrees, “Government/ public-sector companies (HAL, ISRO, etc) offer standard pay packages in the Rs 300,000-500,000 per annum range at the entry level, while private entities may offer one-and-a-half to twice this. With five-ten years of experience, the salary ranges are around one-and-ahalf to double of these figures.”
The variation depends on several factors like the nature of the organisation and your competency level.
M.M.T. Nambi, vice president-aviation and business consulting at Ramco Systems, says, “The compensation package is dependent on the domain knowledge and nature of experience that the person carries and will be above Rs 600,000 for a person having over four-six years of experience.”
Make yourself industry-ready
Now that you have received enough boosters about the opportunities to be grabbed in the aerospace field, it’s time to learn how to get an edge over others in the job market and hone your employable skills accordingly.
Although experienced applicants are always preferred by the companies in aerospace, recruiters, while hiring a fresher, usually look for the technical and problem-solving skills of the student. In general, core companies look for the basic knowledge and understanding of the subject matter and IT companies look for coding skills and aptitude.
As a student of aerospace engineering, you will be involved in all aspects of aeronautics and related areas like automobiles, wind energy, power generation, ship and submarine design, non-destructive and construction works. You will also need to specialise in one of the many areas such as aerodynamics (theo¬retical aerodynamics, experimental aerodynamics and computational fluid dynamics), propulsion, flight mechan¬ics, orbital mechanics, structures (struc¬tural mechanics, structural dynamics, computational structural mechanics and vibration), stability, control and guidance, and aeroelasticity. All these specialisatons are usually referred to as mechanical streams of aeronautical engineering. Specialisation in automatic control and avionics comes under electronics stream.
Electronics has become an inherent part of today’s aircrafts and spacecrafts, and provides crucial state information like position, orientation and velocity, which is essential for safe operation of the craft. Avionics basically stands for aviation electronics, though the term is not limited to just aviation anymore and is extended to rockets, spacecraft, etc. Avionics deals with the electronic systems of aircrafts used for navigation, guidance and communication.The subject matter comes under electronics communication. (At IIT Kharagpur, the subject is offered as an elective to senior undergraduate students.)
“The aerospace engineers from our institute have joined IT companies and also the knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) companies.”
— Dr M.R. Patkar, director, Indian Institute for Aeronautical Engineering and Information Technology (IIAEIT), Pune
Hence, while studying for this branch of engineering, you have an opportunity to accumulate knowledge which can be used in various diversified industries. It’s no surprise that aerospace engineers can and do fit in various industries besides those devoted to aeronautics, astronautics and space.
However, you obviously need to know what’s in demand there.
Prof. Sinhamahapatra informs, “No formal specialisation is offered by IIT Kharagpur in aerospace engineering but companies look for people who are experts in tackling problems related to one or more of the following fields: computational fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, computational structural analysis, aircraft structures, control and guidance, and propulsion systems.”
On the other hand, Prof. Sriram of IIT Madras says, “Aerospace is a high-tech and fast-changing field, so one needs to be always abreast of the global technology advances in the field. Design and analysis jobs involve abstract modelling and complex calculations, so one needs to be very comfortable with those and a strong mathematics background is necessary too. Also, due to the high-tech nature of the field, creative thinking is a skill that is often sought.”
Another professor from IIT Bombay says: “If recruiters are from the core sector, they primarily look for strong fundamentals and also in some cases knowledge in the specialisation including use of certain specialised tools (usually software).”
But remember hard skills alone won’t take you anywhere. Apart from technical knowledge, most companies prefer candidates who have mastered some soft skills, particularly communication skills. They also go for people who are proactive, good team players, ready to accept challenges and grasp things quickly. It is these basic qualities that may at times set one candidate apart from the other.
Since companies have specialised job requirements that cannot be taught in a typical classroom (lack of commonality), it is a standard practice to recruit trainees. During the training, the employees are exposed to the various facets of the company’s activities and also gauged for suitability to work on these activities. They are then posted as engineers and subsequently as lead engineers/project engineers and then onto more management-oriented roles.
“We at Ramco Systems look for a fairly good understanding of aircraft maintenance and engineering principles, process orientation (ability to think process), and good written and oral communication skills,” adds Nambi.
To sum it up, companies, while recruiting, look at the combination of a consistent academic record, deep understanding of the subject matter and good communications skills.