What Is Aeronautical Engineering?

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By Sakina Taher
Last updated on September 22, 2023

A degree in aeronautical engineering provides you with a broad understanding of aeronautics and a wide range of skills you may use to explore careers in the aviation industry.

What is aeronautical engineering? By studying aeronautical engineering, you will learn how to design, build, test, and analyze military or commercial aircraft and aircraft parts. With this knowledge, you can work toward pursuing a career as an aeronautical engineer where you create new technologies, improve aeronautical systems, research and develop different types of machines that fly, and more. 

Continue reading to learn more about aeronautical engineering, meaning what to expect from an aeronautical engineering degree, what do aeronautical engineers do, and more. 

What Is Aeronautical Engineering?

Aeronautical engineering is a branch of engineering addressing the design, production, and maintenance of aircraft. Unlike aerospace engineering, which involves working on rockets and other spacecrafts going beyond the earth’s atmosphere, aeronautical engineering only focuses on aircrafts and parts that stay within the earth’s orbit. 

Aeronautical vs. Aerospace Engineering: What’s the Difference?

Many people think aeronautical engineering and aerospace engineering are the same, but there is a significant difference: Aerospace engineering is an umbrella term that covers aeronautical and astronautical engineering. It focuses on designing both aircraft and spacecraft, the machinery used within and outside of the earth’s atmosphere. 

The aeronautical engineering definition is the study of aircraft operating within the earth’s atmosphere, whereas astronautical engineering deals with spacecrafts traveling beyond it. When designing aircraft and spacecraft, aeronautical and astronautical engineers must consider a variety of operational and environmental factors, as well as rely on the fundamental concepts of physics. Though aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering can overlap in certain situations, the job role of an aeronautical engineer is very different. 

What Does an Aeronautical Engineer Do?

A common question asked about potential engineering careers is “what do aeronautical engineers do?” The duties of an aeronautical engineer may vary, depending on the job role, but can include work such as: 

  • Analyzing project proposals to see if they are technically and financially feasible

  • Evaluating proposed projects goals and safety

  • Controlling and overseeing the development, production, and testing of aviation products

  • Making sure designs adhere to engineering principles, customer requirements, and environmental regulations

  • Creating acceptance criteria for design approaches, quality benchmarks, delivery sustainability, and completion dates

  • Making projects adhere to quality standards

  • Examining defective or damaged products to find the causes of issues and potential fixes

An aeronautical engineer works in industries that design or build aircraft parts, systems, and structures. Let’s take a closer look at some of the industries where aeronautical engineers are in high demand.

Who Employs Aeronautical Engineers?

Now that you know what is aeronautical engineering, it is also important to understand what kind of job opportunities this career pathway can offer. As aeronautical engineers are mostly employed in manufacturing, design, research and development, and government, there are a wide variety of potential roles.

Government Agencies

In the US, nearly 18% of aerospace engineers are employed by government agencies. In most countries, the government allocates a large fund toward their aviation sector as they work on creating, designing, and maintaining airplanes, missiles, helicopters, satellites, and more. These are different types of government agencies using aircrafts to accomplish a wide variety of missions globally. 

Research and Development Companies

With rapidly changing technological advancements in aeronautical engineering, especially the development of unmanned flight systems, many research and development companies are actively recruiting aeronautical engineers. If you have a unique idea you want to develop, consider seeking opportunities in research and development companies. 

Navigational and Control Instrument Manufacturing

Another sector with demand for aeronautical engineers is the navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing industry. Aerospace engineers are responsible for looking at the big picture, which involves aircraft, as well as creating and improving the parts and systems that make aircraft work.

Whether it is analyzing problems in an aircraft, developing new ways to create faster aircraft, or engineering satellites to expand their capabilities, there are many potential pathways you could take as an aeronautical engineer.

What Is the Average Aeronautical Engineering Salary?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 6% increase in job opportunities over the next 10 years, owing to a growing emphasis on aircraft designed to reduce noise pollution, improve fuel efficiency, and increase safety. 

Here are some aeronautical engineering careers you could pursue, along with estimated potential annual earnings in the US, Brazil, China, and India: 

Aeronautical engineer

Average salary in the US


Average salary in Brazil


Average salary in China


Average salary in India


Aerodynamics engineer

Average salary in the US


Average salary in Brazil


Average salary in China


Average salary in India


Engineering consultant

Average salary in the US


Average salary in Brazil


Average salary in China


Average salary in India


Design engineer

Average salary in the US


Average salary in Brazil


Average salary in China


Average salary in India


Source: SalaryExpert

Pursuing a career in aeronautical engineering can be highly lucrative, while also providing job satisfaction as you find new ways to design, improve, and build aircraft and related equipment. To get started, it is important to understand the skills expected of an aeronautical engineer, what you’ll need to study, and required certifications.

How Do I Become an Aeronautical Engineer?

To become an aeronautical engineer, you need to gain an in-depth understanding of building, designing, and improving aircraft and other aviation-related systems. There are also additional key skills that can support your work as an aeronautical engineer, such as:

  • Analytical skills — Spot design elements that may not meet specifications and come up with alternatives.

  • Critical-thinking skills — Create designs adhering to governmental regulations and determine why specific designs may fail.

  • Math skills — Use calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced mathematical concepts for analysis, design, and problem-solving.

  • Problem-solving skills — Meet new requirements for aircraft, such as increased fuel efficiency or improved safety, using the knowledge gained from your aeronautical engineering degree to upgrade designs and troubleshoot issues.

  • Attention to detail — Carefully review your work in order to find and fix mistakes, identify and strengthen weaknesses, and produce a nearly flawless product.

Many of the skills required for aeronautical engineering roles are highly technical, encompassing years of study, that must be learned under the guidance of industry professionals. To obtain the knowledge and skills required to become an aeronautical engineer, the first step involves pursuing an aerospace engineering or aeronautical engineering degree. 

Education Required

Many aerospace engineering colleges in the US offer qualifications taught by industry experts and are equipped with cutting-edge campus facilities and technology to ensure you have both the theoretical and practical knowledge required to become an aeronautical engineer. When evaluating your options, remember to check if the degree program you choose is endorsed by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

After getting your bachelor’s degree, you can also pursue a master's degree in aeronautics for more advanced job opportunities, depending on the licenses and certifications required for the career you are considering.


If you plan to work in the US after your bachelor’s degree, you need to achieve a specific score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. The FE exam shows potential employers that you are qualified as an engineer and have the aptitude and expertise needed to perform the job you are seeking. The FE exam has 110 questions testing your knowledge and capabilities, so prepare well in advance to achieve a good score. 

After you gain at least four years of experience working with a professional engineer, you are eligible to apply for your Professional Engineering (PE) license. With a PE license, you can apply for more advanced roles that require greater levels of responsibility, leadership, and independence, as well as the ability to supervise work. It is also important to remember that in the US, each state issues its own licenses, and several states require continuous education for engineers to keep their licenses. 

Learning more about what does an aeronautical engineer do and the skills required can give you a clearer idea on which criteria to consider when you are selecting the right university or college to pursue your degree.

How Does Shorelight Help Those Pursuing an Education in Aeronautical Engineering?

Shorelight universities offer international students top-ranked aerospace engineering degrees designed to develop the knowledge and skills you need to pursue your dream career as an aeronautical engineer. These programs are specifically designed to provide a supportive learning environment, where you can learn at your own pace as you dive deep into subject matter and grow your professional portfolio. 

Here are a few Shorelight universities with aeronautical engineering degrees: 

Auburn University 

At Auburn University, you can pursue both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering. The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering at Auburn is named one of the nation’s top 35 public institutions with the best undergraduate engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report

University of Kansas

Ranked #93 in Undergraduate Engineering by U.S. News & World Report (2020), the University of Kansas offers a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering with in-depth instruction in aircraft and engine design at their School of Engineering. Expect to take courses like Introduction to Dynamics of Flight I, Fluid Mechanics, Aircraft Aerodynamics and Performance, and more. 

University of South Carolina

Ranked #117 in National Universities by U.S. News & World Report, the University of South Carolina offers both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering at their College of Engineering and Computing. Customize your program to meet your professional goals, learn from expert faculty, and take advantage of experiential learning opportunities throughout your degree programs. 

Learning what is aeronautical engineering (meaning what do aeronautical engineers do), and what an aeronautical engineers salary can be is the first step towards understanding if you are ready to pursue an aeronautical engineering degree. Over the course of your program and after you graduate, you can also gain training and experience through internships and entry-level engineering jobs offered in the US. Universities are equipped with experimental labs to supplement your learning, and provide practical experience to prepare you for professional work. 

Aeronautical engineering is a developing field with rising opportunities. By pursuing a degree in this field, you can work with and learn from inspiring aerospace and aeronautical professionals, explore your creativity by developing innovative solutions, and be at the forefront of research and development in the aviation and aerospace industry. 

Shorelight advisors can assist you with choosing universities and degree programs that suit your career objectives, from application assistance, university comparisons, career development, and visa support, your advisor is always ready to help. Reach for the sky as you take the first steps toward pursuing a degree in aeronautical engineering!

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