While airline jobs probably bring to mind pilots and cabin crew, these are far from your only options. With a range of airline graduate schemes on offer, take a look at what's involved

A look at the assortment of British Airways (BA) careers gives you an idea of the scope of the airline industry, with opportunities as diverse as logistics and leadership, finance, business and data.

A dedicated airline graduate programme provides a structured route into your chosen aviation career, allowing you to sample a number of business functions while developing your knowledge and skills.

However, as you'd expect, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on airline operations. Travel bans and restrictions resulted in a significant decrease in passenger numbers leading to airline staff being furloughed or made redundant. In some cases, such as with Flybe, airlines went into administration. Many airports and airlines temporarily suspended their internships and graduate schemes but as things begin to improve airlines will need fresh talent to ensure that they recover.

Why choose an airline career?

The aviation sector is constantly evolving with the advancement of technology and improvements to current systems, meaning employers are on the lookout for passionate, talented graduates.

Embarking on an airline career you'll meet a variety of people across the business and have plenty of opportunity to develop your role. The chance to travel may also be a feature of your job, meaning you'll get to expand your cultural horizons.

You'll also receive impressive benefits such as discounted flights. But the perks aren't the only reasons you should consider a career in this industry.

Whether you have your heart set on becoming a member of air cabin crew, managing the flight of aircraft on the ground as an air traffic controller, or joining one of the leading graduate schemes in your chosen business area, be that IT, finance, HR or marketing, there are plenty of jobs for graduates to choose from.

How do I find airline work experience?

Jobs with major airlines and aviation employers are competitive. To give yourself an edge and to gain an insight into what it's like working in the sector, try to secure some work experience. Speculatively contacting organisations to find out if they take on students during the holidays is a proactive way to source experience.

Alternatively, you can apply for more structured programmes. For example, British Airways runs a three month Future Leaders Internship over the summer months, based at London Heathrow. You'll earn a salary of £18,000 pro rata.

Boeing provides 12-month internship placements in areas such as finance, project management, engineering, IT, communications and advanced technologies. Airbus also offers year in industry placements in a range of fields including engineering, flight physics, systems and landing gear, business management and communications.

It's also worth researching local airports to see if they offer any work experience opportunities. 

Leading airlines also take on apprentices; to discover more about the possibility of working at a major airline while studying for a recognised qualification, see transport apprenticeships.

Which airlines run graduate schemes?

  • Aer Lingus - The two-year Aer Lingus Graduate Programme is open to all graduates with a curiosity for the airline industry, particularly those who are commercially aware, up for a challenge, creative and analytical.
  • British Airways - There are four programmes to select from on the British Airways Graduate Scheme, each lasting two or three years. Whether you opt for the Data Analytics, Finance, Future Leaders or Logistics stream, you'll be handed responsibility from the outset.
  • easyJet - For a minimum of two years, you'll join a business, operations, technology or leaders focused team if you make it onto the easyJet Talented Career Programme. The four main strands are: Talented Technology, Talented Leaders, Talented Operations (Engineering and Maintenance, Operations Control Centre, Ground Operations) and Talented Business (Customer Experience, Legal, Commercial, Finance, HR, and Strategy and Network).
  • Ryanair - There are a number Ryanair Graduate Programmes to choose from. Two-year head office programmes, split into Sales and marketing, Finance, Commercial, Inflight, Legal and Digital experience schemes. The 12-month IT Lab Graduate programme, split into infrastructure and operations, software development, quality assurance, data analytics, IT planning and delivery and IT security streams and the two-year Flight Operations programme. Based at the airline's head office in Dublin, each involves rotations across a number of different teams within a chosen department.
  • Virgin Atlantic - On the Virgin Atlantic Graduate Programme you'll get involved in multiple teams across the business' engineering services and production departments. The two-year scheme is designed to give you a comprehensive overview of the technical world of Virgin Atlantic.

Not an airline but a huge employer in the aviation field, Heathrow Airport also runs a suite of graduate schemes focused on leadership development in areas including generalist leadership, engineering, procurement and finance.

For more general information on programmes, see graduate schemes 2022.

What qualifications do I need?

Winning a place on one of these schemes isn't easy. A strong academic record is essential, and while entry requirements for different programmes vary, there are some attributes you'll require whichever route you choose.

You'll need a willingness to learn and a commitment to deliver for customers. Interpersonal skills, relationship building and a high level of commercial acumen are must-haves.

To gain a place on the Aer Lingus Graduate Recruitment Programme you'll need a 2:1 degree or a 2:1 Masters; they also favour previous industry work experience.

While applicants for the BA Future Leaders scheme can have any degree discipline, those wanting a place on the Data Analytics programme will need a relevant degree, such as those in data or analysis.

For some schemes an aviation-based course may make you stand out. For example, aviation management, aviation technology and aviation finance. Gaining experience through an internship programme during your studies also shows ambition.

When applying for a scheme be prepared for a process more competitive than passengers rushing to get away for their summer holidays.

At Ryanair, BA and easyJet, for example, the first step is to complete an online application form. Next you'll face a screening process, which usually involves psychometric tests. You'll then take part in a remote or face-to-face interview. If all goes well, you'll then be invited to an assessment day involving group exercises, presentations and second-round face-to-face interviews.

What do airline graduate schemes involve?

Your responsibilities will depend on the scheme and your employer but it's likely that you'll work on live projects that make a real impact. From deciding on new menus for in-flight meals, to developing sales in new markets or working on the technology behind in-flight entertainment systems.

On the Ryanair Head Office Inflight programme you'll work in one of the organisation's busiest departments. You'll plan crew incentives, gifts and parties and analyse the rosters and training needs of over 15,000 cabin and flight crew. You'll work in inflight training, crew planning, retail sales analysis and European base management.

As a graduate on the Virgin Atlantic programme you'll get involved with teams across the airlines engineering and production departments and learn all about the maintenance and optimisation of Airbus and Boeing aircrafts, while sharpening your commercial and project management skills.

On BA's Future Leaders programme you could manage cabin crew, escort media on press trips or deliver major projects to enhance and transform customer experience at Heathrow.

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