Air accident investigator

Air accident engineering inspector, air accident operations inspector

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Air accident investigators search for the causes of accidents and serious incidents, involving civilian aircraft.

Salary range: £72,500 to £82,000

How to become an air accident investigator

You can get into this job through:

  • a university course
  • applying directly


You’ll usually need a degree or postgraduate qualification in engineering or a related subject. Courses include:

  • aerospace engineering
  • aeronautical engineering
  • electrical or electronic engineering
  • mechanical engineering
  • physics
  • mathematics

You may be able to do a postgraduate course in safety and accident investigation, which covers air transport.

Some investigator roles look at the part played by human factors in an incident, and a degree and postgraduate qualification in psychology would be useful for these.

As well as a university qualification, you’ll need several years’ experience of working in aircraft engineering.

A pilot’s licence may also be required for some jobs, like an air accident operations inspector.

Entry requirements

You’ll usually need:

  • 2 or 3 A levels, or equivalent, including maths
  • a degree in a relevant subject for postgraduate study

More information

Direct application

You can apply directly to become an air accident investigator.

If you want to work as an operations inspector, managing an accident response team, you’ll need a pilot’s licence and flying experience.

To be an engineering investigator or flight data recorder inspector, you’ll need a relevant degree or postgraduate qualification and several years’ recent experience in aerospace engineering.

You can also take short courses in accident investigation techniques, which may help broaden your knowledge of the role and skills required.

More information

Further information

You can find out more about how to become an investigator from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

What it takes

Skills and knowledge

You’ll need:

  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • knowledge of manufacturing production and processes
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • knowledge of computer operating systems, hardware and software
  • the ability to use your initiative
  • analytical thinking skills
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • persistence and determination
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages confidently

Restrictions and requirements

You’ll need to:

What you’ll do

Day-to-day tasks

Your day-to-day duties will depend on your exact role but may include:

  • co-ordinating a team to respond to an incident
  • gathering and recording evidence to build a picture of what happened
  • reassembling or dismantling wreckage to look for clues
  • recovering data from flight recorders and instruments
  • using drones to survey accident sites
  • piecing together events that led to an accident
  • managing the different stages of an investigation
  • updating relatives on progress, especially in fatal accidents
  • writing accident reports
  • making safety recommendations to regulators and the industry
  • acting as an expert witness at inquests and official inquiries

Working environment

You could work in remote rural areas, in an aircraft hangar, in a laboratory or in an office.

Your working environment may be physically and emotionally demanding and you’ll travel often.

You may need to wear protective clothing.

Career path and progression

If you work as an engineering or flight data recorder investigator, you could become an operations director, co-ordinating the investigation process. You could also progress to chief accident inspector.

You could use your experience to work as a consultant with aerospace manufacturers, safety regulators or aviation industry insurance companies.

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