Aerospace Careers Outlook
In the decades following the Second World War, the aerospace industry was one of the most important in the United States. Apart from the international prestige to be gained by winning the space race, the ongoing threat presented by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union drove the industry’s growth. Aerospace contractors could be assured of billions of dollars of new contracts each year; interest in space travel and research was also high.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and early 1990s created a new reality for the aerospace industry. The immediate threat to national security disappeared, and with it, the need for high levels of spending. Other factors also combined to depress the aerospace industry. After the Challenger disaster of 1986, the space program entered a decline. Decisions were made to reduce the reliance on the space shuttle through the 1990s, and NASA’s budget was cut. (In 2003, a second space shuttle disaster occurred when the Columbia disintegrated in mid-air while reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. This created further stress on the industry and led to renewed calls for decreases in NASA’s budget.)
The recession of the early 1990s, coupled with the Persian Gulf War, severely reduced the level of air travel. Meanwhile, a wave of corporate downsizing swept the country, and by the mid-1990s, more than one million management jobs had been eliminated. Because business travel has always been one of the mainstays of the airlines, the aviation industry saw even further reductions in air travel. The deregulation of the airline industry in the early 1980s had also led to the failure of a number of airlines. All of these events meant that fewer orders for new commercial aircraft were being placed with the major aerospace manufacturers. Between 1989 and 1995, more than 500,000 jobs were eliminated.
The aerospace industry recovered slightly in the late 1990s, with 898 jetliner orders in 1996, 940 in 1997, 1,124 in 1998, 776 in 1999, and 1,081 in 2000. Employment also recovered somewhat, but peaked in 1998. The industry began to experience another decline due to several factors, including the Asian financial crises, foreign outsourcing for engines and parts, competition with the European manufacturer Airbus, and a struggling economy. Airlines began to lose money as air travel declined in the first half of 2001. Orders for new aircraft severely declined and layoffs affected thousands of workers.
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks caused a steep decline in commercial flight and orders for new commercial aircraft. Since then, travel has rebounded gradually, and the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that the industry will return to its pre 9/11 condition over the next several years. Industry experts say that the war on terrorism could provide an opportunity for the aerospace industry to restructure itself and regain strength. To fight terrorism, protect the United States, and continue to support its troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locales, the U.S. government has increased its spending on aircraft, shipbuilding, ballistic missile defense, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and other defense-related programs.
The U.S. Department of Labor projects that employment in the aerospace products and parts manufacturing industry will grow more slowly than the average career, with higher growth predicted for the military aircraft and missiles portion of the industry. The employment percentage could increase further depending on government decisions to increase military spending.
As a result of the Columbia disaster, there was considerable debate concerning NASA’s budget, the necessity of human travel in space, and the future of the U.S. space program. Congress increased NASA’s budget slightly, and NASA announced plans to create a new crew exploration vehicle, retire the space shuttle and complete the International Space Station, and send a return manned mission to the Moon by 2020 as a first step to a manned mission to Mars. As part of its overall plan, NASA is expected to continue its research in aerospace technology, aviation, and space transportation, including military and commercial applications.
Careers in Aerospace Field:
- Aeronautical and Aerospace Technicians
- Aerospace Engineers
- Electrical and Electronics Engineers
- Industrial Engineers
- Mechanical Engineers
- Robotics Engineers and Technicians
Related Career Fields:
For More Information:
- Air Force Association
- Aerospace Industries Association of America (AIA)
- American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics