Air Accident Investigator

Job Description:

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

Job Category:
Automotive & Aviation

What you will do:

Depending on your role you could:

  • co-ordinate a team to respond to an incident (leadership skills)
  • gather and record evidence to build a picture of what happened
  • speak sensitively and tactfully with victims, witnesses and bereaved relatives
  • reassemble or dismantle wreckage to look for clues
  • recover data from flight recorders and instruments
  • use drones to survey accident sites
  • piece together events that led to an accident
  • manage the different stages of an investigation
  • update relatives on progress, especially in fatal accidents
  • write accident reports
  • make safety recommendations to regulators and the industry
  • act as an expert witness at inquests and official inquiries


You’ll need:

  • knowledge of manufacturing production and processes
  • knowledge of computer operating systems, hardware and software
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages confidently

As well as

  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • the ability to use your initiative
  • analytical thinking skills
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • persistence and determination (drive)
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become an air accident investigator, you typically need a strong educational background in aviation-related fields. While there may not be specific GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) subjects that are mandatory, certain subjects can provide a good foundation for pursuing a career in this field. Here are some relevant GCSE subjects that can be beneficial:

  • Mathematics: Strong math skills are essential for analyzing data and making calculations related to aircraft performance, trajectories, and accident investigations.
  • Physics: Physics provides a fundamental understanding of the principles governing aircraft operations, including aerodynamics, mechanics, and thermodynamics.
  • Science: Subjects like chemistry and biology can be valuable as they develop analytical thinking and laboratory skills, which might be useful in certain aspects of accident investigations.
  • Technology: GCSE subjects related to technology and engineering can offer insight into aircraft systems, maintenance, and technology used in modern aviation.
  • English: Good communication skills, including writing and speaking, are crucial for documenting and presenting findings in accident reports.
  • Geography: Geography can provide knowledge about geographical information systems (GIS), which are often used in accident investigations to map crash sites and analyze terrain data.

While these subjects can be helpful, it’s important to note that becoming an air accident investigator typically requires advanced education beyond GCSE level. Most investigators hold at least a bachelor’s degree in aviation, aeronautical engineering, or a related field. Additionally, they often have experience as pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, or in other aviation-related roles before transitioning into accident investigation.

Furthermore, air accident investigators often receive specialized training through aviation safety organizations or government agencies responsible for accident investigation, such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the United States or the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) in the United Kingdom. These organizations may have their own specific educational and training requirements.

Post School

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.

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.

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

Working Hours and 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 & 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.