Entry routes to a career in aerospace

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The Royal Aeronautical Society Careers team are here to help with impartial and independent information when providing advice and guidance on career pathways in the aerospace and aviation community.  Deciding what your next step should be can feel like a massive and scary decision, however we are here to help you launch your career in the direction that suits you best.

Today we are going to be looking at:

  • The differences and benefits of apprenticeships, degrees, and degree apprenticeships
  • Entry routes for pilots

Apprenticeships or University?

Apprenticeships, degrees, and degree apprenticeships are all excellent ways to start your career in aerospace. Each brings their own strengths, and each has a different pull for different people. There is no one right decision here; you need to decide for yourself what path you think you would prefer, as all of them are excellent ways to break into the industry. As a student or apprentice, you canjoin the society for free as an affiliate member, gaining you access to our young persons network, further careers advice, and many other benefits.

So in no particular order…


With a variety of complex career paths, from aerospace engineering to space mission analysis to airline management, there are many specialist degrees at UK universities.

  • Accessibility/finances: With a university course, you can get a loan from student finance to cover both your university fees and your maintenance costs like rent for accommodation. This means you can travel to basically anywhere in the UK. Your loan may not cover everything, but universities know this, so there will be a plethora of student jobs at the university and in the local area.
  • Style of learning: Contrary to what you may have been taught, there is a wide range of styles of learning at university, ranging from the more traditional academic focused routes to more vocational and lab based courses. No two courses will be the same, so it is important to look at what the courses offer after your first year. Generally, a lot of your first year of university will be similar across the board, and it will from second year onwards that you get to specialise in specific topics.
  • Experience: University is a great place to meet loads of people who have similar interests to you, to take part in new hobbies, and to grow in independence around other people who are also finding their footing. You will learn more than what your course offers you, and have the opportunity to take part in many new experiences.
  • Work experience: Many engineering courses will offer a year in industry as part of your degree. This means that you take a year off of your course to work in companies for a year. This is an excellent way to make sure that you develop those essential transferable and relevant skills that employers will be looking for when you are looking for jobs after your degree. If your course doesn’t offer this, don’t worry, may companies offer paid summer placements and your university will help you search for them. Try to do a couple of these during your degree to gain those hands-on experiences in a real workplace.
    There will be people out there who have taken a different route to you who will have had lots of hands on experience in a working environment, so it is really important that you also gain that experience while you learn academically.
  • Accreditation: The Royal Aeronautical Society accredits multiple university courses. Accreditation means that we have approved the course, therefore you as a student have the guarantee that it provides the exemplifying level of understanding, knowledge and skills to underpin professional competence to help you as a graduate on your way to registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng) or as Incorporated Engineer (IEng). Basically, it makes your degree look better for future engineering-based employers. Head over to our article of university courses to learn more about the universities we support.


You can opt to obtain advanced-level apprenticeship qualifications, with many trainees going on to do Level 6 and Level 7 (degree/postgraduate equivalent) apprenticeships. What’s more, apprentices often have their education fees paid for by their employer, and with the costs of university study ever increasing, apprenticeships look like an even more appealing option, if you don’t want the student loan debt.

Taking a vocational route to gaining qualifications can hold exciting prospects, and apprentices with ambition to enter senior roles within the firm usually find their are few barriers if they have the right skills. In fact many company directors in our sector started life on the shop floor.

During National Apprenticeship Week, we interviewed apprentices and the people who hire them to demonstrate the value of doing an apprenticeship. You can listen to these podcasts here.


  • Accessibility/Finances: Do you have many apprenticeships in your area or that are commutable distance. If they are further away are you able to move? You will get paid for your apprenticeship, but it will not be the salary of a full time position. It is a solid amount of money however and you won’t be needing to take out a loan to cover fees.
  • Style of learning: Alongside on-the-job training, apprentices spend at least 20% of their working hours completing classroom-based learning with a college, university or training provider which leads to a nationally recognised qualification. It is a less traditionally academic route, so if you prefer to learn things while doing, this is an excellent option for you.
  • Experience: There will be a comradery between you and your fellow apprentices, but it will be a very different social experience to university. You will have classes and work together, so will spend a lot of time with each other and still build those life-long friendships.
  • Work experience: You are working while learning so you are in a prime position to be hired once your apprenticeship is complete as you will have demonstrated that you have the skills to do these jobs.
  • End point assessments: Although the Royal Aeronautical Society does not directly hire apprentices, we support them throughout their careers and enforce the standards of their courses by delivering end point assessments. Like with university courses, we put our seal of approval on your apprenticeship.


There are also a limited number of Degree Apprenticeships where your company not only pays you to do your apprenticeship, they pay for you to attend university as well to get both a degree and apprenticeship qualifications. These are growing more and more popular and we recommend that you check those out too if you want to experience the best of both worlds.

Entry Routes and Requirements for Pilots

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

There are some key skills and requirements you need to meet to become a pilot:

  • Educational requirements: To get onto a flight programme, you will need a minimum of five GCSEs grade C/4 or above including Maths, English & Science, to be at least 18 years old to commence training (privately, you can be younger), and be Fluent in English (verbal and written).
  • Physical requirements: You will need to be in good health including eyesight (glasses are allowed). EASA or UKCAA Class 1 Medical Certifications are desirable.
There are multiple routes through which you can become a pilot:

It is important to note that becoming a pilot is a very costly experience. It will cost between £75,000 and £100,000 to become a commercial pilot, and there are no student loan equivalents you can take out. Therefore, it is important to make sure that you meet the requirement to be a pilot before you spend loads of money. Many people will also first do a degree or apprenticeship and make some money before becoming a pilot. You will not be “too old” if you wait. However, if you are desperate to start straight away, there are a few ways in that won’t cost you loads of money:

  • The RAF: The RAF will train you to fly various types of plane or helicopter for free in exchange for you working for them for normally about 5 years after you complete your training.
  • Apprenticeships? Although the groundwork is now in place, there are currently no Pilot apprenticeships. Discussions with the government are still happening, so this will eventually change. Some airlines are taking the matter into their own hands. TUI for example, have a pilot cadet programme where you’ll complete your training and eventually join TUI as a Cadet Pilot flying the Boeing 737. They can offer to cover the costs for this because once you finish your training, you pay them back via salary sacrifice over 4 years (you still earn over £30K after this deduction!!) So not only do you get your license, you also have a job waiting for you afterwards with an airline! Check out the course here.

Interested in learning more? Grab a ticket for our free careers fair on the 1st of November in our main office in London. There is even more information about careers on this website as well, so go check out our tabs on applying for positions, writing CVs, and more!