Product and Parts Manufacturing
For most of history, the idea of moving people or objects through the
air or into space was inconceivable. Today, however, airplanes are the
fastest way to move people and goods around the world, and space travel
has gone from being a dream to reality. From the TV traffic helicopter
to the B-2 bomber to the voyager space probe, everything that moves
through the air or space is produced by the aerospace industry.
Because of the high speeds that most aerospace products move at, they
must be strong, but since they also must defy gravity, they also need to
be light. As a result, workers in this industry use many specialized
materials in production. Titanium and aluminum alloys are common, as are
advanced composite materials. Because of the extreme conditions
aerospace equipment operates in, parts must be designed and manufactured
to precise specification; the smallest error could lead to failure of
the finished product. As a result, significant testing occurs at each
stage of the production process.
producing transport aircraft make up the largest segment of the civil
(nonmilitary) aircraft portion of the industry. Civil transport aircraft
are produced for air transportation businesses such as airlines and
cargo transportation companies. These aircraft range from small
turboprops to wide-body jets and are used to move people and goods all
over the world. Another segment of civil aircraft is general aviation
aircraft. Aircraft in this segment range from small two-seaters designed
for leisure use to corporate jets used for business transport. Civil
helicopters, which make up one of the smallest segments of civil
aircraft, are commonly used by police and large city traffic
departments, emergency medical services, and businesses such as oil and
mining companies that need to transport people to remote worksites.
manufacturers produce the engines used in civil and military aircraft.
Because of the specialized work involved, aircraft engines are usually
manufactured by separate companies, although they are designed and built
according to the aircraft design and performance specifications of the
aircraft manufacturers. Aircraft manufacturers may use engines designed
by different companies on the same type of aircraft.
Military aircraft and
helicopters are purchased by governments to meet national defense needs,
such as delivering weapons to military targets and transporting troops
and equipment around the globe. Some of these aircraft are specifically
designed to deliver or guide a powerful array of ordnance to military
targets with tremendous maneuverability and low detectability. Other
aircraft, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, are produced to gather
defense intelligence such as radio signals or to monitor movement on the
Firms producing guided
missiles and missile propulsion units sell primarily to military and
government organizations. Although missiles are viewed predominantly as
offensive weapons, improved guidance systems have led to their use as
defensive systems. This part of the industry also produces space
vehicles and the rockets for launching them into space. Consumers of
spacecraft include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA), the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), telecommunications
companies, television networks, and news organizations. Firms producing
space satellites are discussed with the computer and electronic product
manufacturing industry in this publication because satellites are
primarily electronic products.
The Federal Government
traditionally has been the aerospace industry's biggest customer. The
vast majority of Government contracts to purchase aerospace equipment
are awarded by DOD. NASA also is a major purchaser of the industry's
products and services, mainly for space vehicles and launch services.
The aerospace industry
is dominated by a few large firms that contract to produce aircraft with
Government and private businesses, usually airline and cargo
transportation companies. These large firms, in turn, subcontract with
smaller firms to produce specific systems and parts for their vehicles.
Government purchases are largely related to defense. Typically, DOD
announces its need for military aircraft or missile systems, specifying
a multitude of requirements. Large firms specializing in defense
products subsequently submit bids, detailing proposed technical
solutions and designs, along with cost estimates, hoping to win the
contract. Firms also may research and develop materials, electronics,
and components relating to their bid, often at their own expense, to
improve their chances of winning the contract. Following a negotiation
phase, a manufacturer is selected and a prototype is developed and
built, then tested and evaluated. If approved by DOD, the craft or
system enters production. This process usually takes many years.
The way in which
commercial and military aircraft are designed, developed, and produced
continues to undergo significant change in response to the need to cut
costs and deliver products faster. Firms producing commercial aircraft
have reduced development time drastically through computer-aided design
and drafting (CADD), which allows firms to design and test an entire
aircraft, including the individual parts, by computer; the
specifications of these parts can be sent electronically to
subcontractors around the world who use them to produce the parts.
Increasingly, firms bring together teams composed of customers,
engineers, and production workers to pool ideas and make decisions
concerning the aircraft at every phase of product development.
Additionally, the military has changed its design philosophy, using
commercially available, off-the-shelf technology when appropriate,
rather than developing new customized components.
and private businesses typically identify their needs for a particular
model of new aircraft based on a number of factors, including the routes
they fly. After specifying requirements such as range, size, cargo
capacity, type of engine, and seating arrangements, the airlines invite
manufacturers of civil aircraft and aircraft engines to submit bids.
Selection ultimately is based on a manufacturer's ability to deliver
reliable aircraft that best fit the purchaser's stated market needs at
the lowest cost and at favorable financing terms.
The average production employee in aerospace products and parts
production works 43.6 hours a week, compared with 40.8 hours a week for
all manufacturing workers and 33.6 hours a week for workers in all
private industries. About half of all workers in this industry worked a
standard 40-hour week. Part-time work is unusual.
Working conditions in
aerospace manufacturing facilities vary. Most new plants, in contrast to
older facilities, are spacious, well lit, and modern, although specific
work environments usually depend on occupation and the age of the
production line. Engineers, scientists, and technicians frequently work
in office settings or laboratories, although production engineers may
spend much of their time with production workers on the factory floor.
Production workers, such as welders and other assemblers, may have to
cope with high noise levels. Oil, grease, and grime often are present,
and some workers may face exposure to volatile organic compounds found
in solvents, paints, and coatings. Heavy lifting is required for some
manufacturers employ about 503,900 wage and salary workers. Employment
data in this statement do not include aerospace R&D-related workers who
work in separate establishments. Under the North American Industry
Classification System (NAICS), workers in research and development
establishments that are not part of a manufacturing facility are
included in a separate industry -- research and development in the
physical, engineering, and life sciences. This industry is covered in
the section about scientific research and
2008, about 3,100 establishments made up the aerospace industry. In the
aerospace parts industry, most establishments were operated by
subcontractors that manufacture parts and employ fewer than 100 workers.
Nevertheless, 61 percent of the jobs in aerospace manufacturing were in
large establishments that employed 1,000 or more workers. The largest
numbers of aerospace jobs were in California and Washington, although
many also were located in Texas, Kansas, Connecticut, and Arizona.
Paths into this Industry
are many career paths into every industry...within the Career
Cornerstone Center we focus on describing the STEM and Medicine (STEM)
career paths that may be prevalent in a given industry.
The aerospace industry
invests a great deal of time and money in developing new products and
improving existing ones, and much of this work is performed by engineers
and workers in computer and mathematical science occupations, who make
up 24 percent of the industry. In addition, many more aerospace-related
professionals work in the scientific research and development services
are integral members of the teams that research, design, test, and
produce aerospace vehicles. Some specialize in areas such as structural
design, guidance, navigation and control, and instrumentation and
communication. Other types of engineers also contribute to the research
for and development and production of aerospace products. For example,
mechanical engineers help design mechanical components and develop the
specific tools and machines needed to produce aircraft, missile, and
space vehicle parts, or they may design jet and rocket engines.
Electrical and electronics engineers work on the electrical systems that
control the functioning of most aerospace products. Industrial engineers
develop methods of producing complex products efficiently and solve
logistical problems of manufacturing and transporting the sometimes
large parts. Engineering technicians assist engineers, both in the
research and development laboratory and on the manufacturing floor. They
may help build prototypes of newly designed parts, run tests and
experiments, and perform a variety of other technical tasks. One of the
earliest users of computer-aided design, the aerospace industry
continues to use the latest computer technology. Computer scientists,
computer systems analysts, database administrators, computer software
engineers, computer programmers, computer support specialists, and
network and computer systems administrators are responsible for the
design, testing, evaluation, and setup of computer systems that are used
throughout the industry for design and manufacturing purposes.
and financial occupations account for about 16 percent of aerospace
industry employment. Many advance to these jobs from professional
occupations, as it is beneficial for managers in the aerospace industry
to have a technical or engineering background when they supervise teams
of engineers in activities such as testing and research and development.
Industrial production managers oversee all workers and lower level
managers in a factory. They also coordinate all activities related to
production. In addition to technical and production managers, financial
managers; purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents; cost
estimators; and accountants and auditors are needed to purchase parts
and materials, negotiate with customers and subcontractors, and track
Employment of wage and salary workers in aerospace
products and part manufacturing , 2008 and projected
(Employment in thousands)
business, and financial occupations
mathematical science occupations
and engineering occupations
maintenance, and repair occupations
mechanics and service technicians
do not add to total due to omission of occupations outside
of STEM fields. Original Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics National Employment Matrix, 2008-18.
aerospace product and parts manufacturing industry is expected to
experience little or no change in wage and salary employment from
2008-18, compared with 11 percent growth projected for all industries
combined. The introduction of several major new aircraft in both the
civil and military segments of the industry should lead to a substantial
increase in the number of aircraft produced over the projection period,
but productivity improvements and the continued production of parts in
foreign countries will enable this production to be completed without an
increase in employment.
Recent volatility in
fuel prices is causing world airlines to hasten the process of replacing
older, less fuel efficient aircraft with newer models. This demand,
combined with rapid growth in air travel in Asia and the Middle East,
has created a favorable environment for airplane manufacturers. The
civil aerospace industry operates in a world market, and the demand for
air travel, and consequently for aircraft, is strongly affected by
global economic conditions.
The military aircraft
and missiles segment of the industry will continue to grow as concern
for the Nation's security has increased the need for military aircraft
and military aerospace equipment. In addition, the need to modernize
Cold War-era equipment will stimulate demand in this sector of the
industry. However, budget pressures may serve as a check on growth in
spending on military aerospace equipment.
addition to some growth in employment opportunities for workers in the
industry, many job openings will arise from replacement needs,
especially for aerospace engineers and other professional occupations.
Many engineers entered the industry during the 1960s and 1970s as the
space age captured the Nationís attention; these workers are now nearing
retirement. Among those in the aerospace manufacturing industry,
professionals typically enjoy more job stability than do other workers.
During slowdowns in production, companies prefer to keep technical teams
intact to continue research and development activities in anticipation
of new business. Production workers, on the other hand, are particularly
vulnerable to layoffs during periods of weak demand for aircraft.
Job opportunities in
the aerospace product and parts manufacturing industry are also
influenced by the unique production cycles within the industry, which do
not always follow general economic conditions. Job openings in the
industry rise rapidly when major new aircraft or systems are in
development and production. However, job openings become scarcer after
the initial production run.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.