After a severe decline in air travel during the Great Recession of 2008-2009 that clobbered airlines and ancillary industries for several years, the aviation sector is at last roaring ahead on afterburners.

Select investments in the industry are among the greatest growth opportunities you can find in 2016. Below we spotlight two aviation plays that should soar above the extreme market volatility we're likely to see in coming months.

According to a report in December from the International Air Transport Association, global airlines are expected to generate earnings of $33 billion for 2015, up dramatically from their $16.4 billion net profit in 2014. Profits are expected to grow this year, too, with the IATA estimating 2016 earnings of $36.3 billion. Airlines are benefiting from low oil prices and strong demand for passenger travel, the IATA notes.

These are powerful trends that growth investors should love, especially in these uncertain times when safe market-beating gains are hard to come by. Following are two of our favorite aviation picks right now.

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1. PowerShares Dynamic Leisure & Entertainment ETF (PEJ) - Get Report

You can gain exposure to aviation's growth through this exchange-traded fund, which invests more than 27% of its portfolio in airline stocks.

With net assets of $176.1 million, PowerShares Dynamic Leisure & Entertainment ETF's top holdings include industry leaders Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines. With an expense ratio of 0.63, the fund is down 4.8% year to date but has gained 13% over the last month, as investors seek sectors with sufficient long-term resilience that can withstand volatility in oil prices and the broader markets.

In addition to airlines, major beneficiaries of aviation growth are outfits that provide aviation maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO). Aviation's well-trained grease monkeys are vital to maintain around-the-clock airworthiness, but MROs tend to be taken for granted by operators and passengers ... and by Wall Street.

Next we'll review the leading publicly traded MRO outfit in the world. 

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2. AAR (AIR) - Get Report

AAR provides MRO products and services to commercial, government and defense clients.

The company is scheduled to release fiscal third-quarter earnings on March 30, before the opening bell. The consensus is for adjusted earnings per share to come in at 26 cents.

Here's what we like about the stock: It's trading at a low valuation compared with its peers; it's projected to rack up robust double-digit gains in 2016; and it benefits from low oil prices. You've probably never heard of AAR, but it should prove a growth stock winner in 2016, a year that promises to prove challenging for investors.

Because fuel is a major input cost for airlines, airlines (and the manufacturers that supply them with aircraft) have greatly benefited from the crude oil slump. Even if oil prices rise closer to $40-$50 a barrel, that level is still low enough to boost aviation profit margins and consequently drive business to AAR. Major clients of the MRO giant include Boeing, which is generating record orders for new commercial aircraft.

With a market cap of $722 million, AAR purchases, sells, leases, repairs and overhauls airframe parts, including avionics and electronic, fuel, and hydraulic components. Based in Wood Dale, Ill., AAR employs about 4,850 people in 17 countries at more than 60 locations around the world and ranks as the largest independent airframe maintenance provider in the U.S. by man-hours generated. AAR is reaping the benefits of aerospace recovery, as well as the growing need of carriers to perform deferred maintenance.

AAR stands apart from its peers for its multiyear campaign to streamline operations, providing low-cost MRO work for carriers that struggle with thin profit margins and are always desperate to save money. At the same time, as MROs extend their operations to the farthest reaches of the globe, they face the challenge of managing supply chains. AAR has pioneered new supply chain management tactics that reduce costs and expedite the provision of the right part, to the right place.

With a price-to-sales ratio of only 0.46, AAR trades at a favorable valuation compared to the aerospace industry, which has a price-to-sales ratio of 1.31.

AAR shares are now trading at $21.48. The median 12-month price target from analysts covering the stock is $27, suggesting shares can gain 26%. The highest price target from analysts is $28, implying a gain of about 30%. The stock is down 18% year to date, but it has gained more than 9.4% over the last month.

As we've just explained, AAR Corp. and PowerShares Dynamic Leisure & Entertainment ETF are resilient growth plays in this unpredictable market. We've also found a small-cap biotech "rocket stock" that's about to take off. UCLA researchers are stunned by a Nobel Prize-winning cancer breakthrough that's proven in clinical trials to eliminate lethal forms of cancer with a single dose. One small company owns the patent to this life-saving treatment. Now trading at about $5 a share, the stock of this innovative company is projected to surge 2,700% on an imminent FDA announcement. To download the full report, click here.

John Persinos is editorial manager and investment analyst at Investing Daily. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.