If the aerospace industry began with the Wright Brothers’ flight, it will celebrate its 120th birthday in 2023. It has had its ups and downs over that period with the last couple of years being especially tough for commercial air travel – but that is changing. Air travel and the airline industry have bounced back.

Graph for US Sched Airlines
Graph for US Sched Airlines

The airlines have responded to the rebound of air travel by ordering hundreds of new planes:

  • United Airlines is expected to receive 700 new planes by the end of 2032 including 100 new Boeing 787 jets.
  • Southwest Airlines has plans to buy 100 Boeing 737 max jets.
  • Alaska Airlines plans to buy 52 Boeing 737s.

Hiring has also recovered with U.S. cargo and passenger airlines adding more than 8,000 jobs in September 2022 and total employment now at nearly 5 percent  above the pre-pandemic level. Talent shortages are a big concern for Aerospace & Defense firms. The aerospace industry is focusing greater attention on how to adopt and apply emerging technologies and transition to a more sustainable future. This is changing the makeup of the industry workforce as employers look for talent with skills in advanced aerospace engineering, math, data science and other computer-related skills.  

Sustainability in aviation is largely about reducing or eliminating CO2 emissions during flight. These efforts touch on everything from reducing aircraft weight to employing electrical systems that don’t rely on power from the plane’s engines. The next few years should be exciting for aerospace engineers as they will be at the forefront of developing solutions to a wide and complex array of engineering challenges. This drive toward innovation will sustain a strong job market for aerospace engineers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 6 percent employment growth rate for aerospace engineers from now until 2031 compared to an average growth rate of 5 percent over that same period for all engineers. 

new plane designs offer improved service, reduced CO2 emissions and improved efficiencies

Airlines are retiring some of the workhorses of their current fleets including Boeing 747s and 757s, the Airbus 380 and the MD-80 to replace them with the next generation of planes. Here are some of the current and planned advancements in aircraft design and functionality:

  • Boeing’s new 777 can carry more than 400 passengers in a wide body with foldable wings to fit in tight airport docking facilities. 
  • Airbus’s new A321XLR offers the longest range of any single-aisle plane – able to fly 1,000 miles more than the 737 and other narrow-body planes.
  • NASA’s Quesst mission is a low boom flight demonstrator project aiming to lower the volume of sonic booms by manipulating the shape of the aircraft. Related to this, Boom Supersonic’s Overture project is striving to resurrect supersonic civilian flight which would be the first civilian supersonic jet traffic since the retirement of the Concorde – at fares similar to those for current business class tickets.
  • Aviation company CFM International and Airbus are planning to test newly designed open-rotor fan engines (e.g., turboprops) which could lead to fuel burn reductions of 20 percent thereby reducing CO2 emissions by a similar amount.
  • Airbus, KLM, and other carriers are looking into the future for “blended wing” planes that will carry hundreds of passengers while reducing fuel consumption by 20 percent.
  • SWISS (Switzerland’s national carrier) is fitting some of its planes with AeroSHARK surface technology which reduces frictional resistance thereby increasing fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.

electric systems will replace some hydraulics (not propulsion) to reduce CO2 emissions and improve efficiency

In 2019, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation worldwide totaled 936 million metric tons. The reduction in aviation during the pandemic resulted in a decline in CO2 emissions with a projected 671 metric tons in 2022. Airlines are taking steps to keep these numbers from climbing back up.
Some of the steps include replacing hydraulic systems with systems powered by electricity which will reduce the weight of planes and reduce fuel consumption. Here are some of the efforts plane manufacturers are working on:

  • Airbus is the first manufacturer to develop an electric thrust inverter to replace a hydraulic system.
  • By improving aerodynamics, using lightweight composite materials, and using more electrically-driven systems not reliant on jet engine power, Boeing’s 787 is burning 20 percent  to 30 percent less fuel on international flights. Additionally, Safran Landing Systems developed an electric braking system for the 787.
  • Rolls-Royce is assessing the feasibility of other more-electric systems including an electrical starter generator, various accessories, multi-shaft power extraction and transfer, and more.
  • Liebherr Aerospace has begun R&D efforts that are examining using electrical power for flight control, landing gear actuation, air conditioning and ice protection.

budding technologies for aerospace

Over the next few years, the aerospace industry will be assessing emerging and innovative technologies and processes to improve efficiency and foster sustainability. Some of these include: 

  • Employing additive manufacturing techniques such as the use of 3D printing to quickly create higher performance, lighter aircraft parts that require less maintenance.
  • Transitioning to clean manufacturing to reduce factories’ carbon footprints.
  • Continued efforts to evaluate the feasibility of creating zero-emissions aircraft using electric or hydrogen propulsion to replace conventional jet engines.
  • Aerospace and defense companies move to reshape themselves as digital enterprises leveraging digital twins and digital threads. Digital twins provide the means to simulate and analyze parts and equipment before production and reflect what is learned into improved designs and performance. Digital threads connect the digital twin to all the other “derived” deliverables associated with the product (i.e., supply chain, manufacturing, documentation, service/maintenance, etc.). A digital thread enhances integration across all the engineering domains associated with the product to keep the data associated with the product up to date.
  • More research and investment are being directed to electric Vertical Take-off and Landing Vehicles (eVTOLs) with 347 organizations working on more than 700 eVTOL aircraft concepts and designs in 2022.

Randstad Engineering can help with both aerospace staffing and project-based solutions

With more than 20 years of aerospace experience, we help aerospace talent find work opportunities that match their career goals and supply aerospace employers with the skilled engineering talent they need to succeed. 

Aerospace job seekers have access to experienced recruiters with knowledge of the industry and the ability to leverage our extensive aerospace industry network to identify positions suited to their needs and requirements. Aerospace employers can have confidence that the talent we provide has been vetted by an organization with extensive experience in delivering project-based and resource-based solutions for aerospace industry clients.

Whether you are looking for an aerospace job or need a skilled individual or team with backgrounds in R&D, product development, software/systems engineering, manufacturing, quality control, electrical/electronics engineering – and more, Randstad Engineering can help. Let’s talk.