Many students are gravitating toward a career in aviation management. Robert W. Moorman examines this phenomenon and what schools are doing to meet the demand.

Career stability, higher starting salaries and better quality of life are reasons students give when asked why they are choosing aviation management over piloting as a career. Becoming a professional airline pilot was for years the dream job. Travel the world, meet interesting people and fly sophisticated aircraft. What’s not to like. But when the US government mandated it would require more stringent training requirements for hiring first officers, the so-called FOQ rule, which also required hundreds more hours of additional flight training, there was a collective re-think by students on what career path to take.

“Sometimes life gets in the way,” said Suzanne Kearns (Ph.D.), assistant professor, Commercial Aviation Management, University of Western Ontario (UWO). “There are a lot of challenges that young people face today,” not the least of which is finding the money to pay for a four-year undergraduate degree and obtain the necessary licenses to become a professional pilot.

Academics agree that the high cost of flight training is a seminal factor in the students’ thinking. “Some young people today have shifted aspirations of becoming a pilot and look toward the business and management side of aviation primarily because of the high cost of flight training, coupled with low starting salaries, lifestyle and job instabilities,” said Lori J. Brown, associate professor and researcher, Western Michigan University (WMU).

Choices There are other, non-cost related factors why students switch careers. Some students aren’t familiar with the array of career choices available to them.

“Many students enter our aviation program wanting to be commercial airline pilots,” said Elizabeth Bjerke, (Ph.D.), chair and professor, Department of Aviation, University of North Dakota. “However, during their education, they are exposed to all of the other aspects of the aviation industry and often times change their career aspirations to align with the business side of aviation.”

That said, students should be careful not to limit themselves to one path or the other, various teachers advised. Such a choice could diminish students’ marketability. One of the more popular options is when students major in business and minor in piloting or vice versa.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) is one of several schools that offer the piloting and business degree option. One of the more popular options at ERAU is where students enroll in the Aeronautical Sciences program, a professional pilot track in the College of Aviation. Students minor in business, which has six core courses, including accounting, marketing and finance. These students will have a “solid business foundation and core courses that employers want,” said Mike Williams (Ph.D.), dean of the College of Business at ERAU.

ERAU’s “Business Eagles” internship program developed in tandem with Boeing is designed specifically to prepare its students to work for companies like Boeing. At last year’s Boeing and ERAU summit, Boeing officials said they wanted students to have more supply chain experience. So Embry-Riddle added a supply chain major and minor in fall 2015 to its business curriculum.

Another concern of aviation companies is that schools were not teaching students about the latest software used by the aviation industry. ERAU is addressing this concern, as are other schools. “Universities have to be responsive to what employers want,” said Williams. “If they don’t do this, the school is putting its students at a great disadvantage.”

Entrepreneurship is another area of education that schools need to strengthen. Most people think this subject is limited to someone starting their own business or inventing a product or process. Yet entrepreneurship is an important component of an integrated company, said academics, whether it is an OEM, airline, airport or a business that produces aviation related products.

Several academics interviewed said it is important that students get the latest information regarding the state of the aviation industry before committing to any college or university aviation program.

Case in point, UND’s Bjerke said there was a trend by students to steer away from the professional pilot track when the First Officer Qualification (FOQ) rule was being developed. An in-house study proved this trend. Since then, however, “we are actually getting people back in to the flying profession,” Bjerke said, now that airlines are hiring again. She added that interest in aviation management has increased. [The FOQ rule requires pilots to obtain 1,500 hours of additional flight time plus an Air Transport Pilot (ATP) rating before they can be hired by airlines. One exemption applies - pilots from certain accredited schools with aviation degree programs can obtain a restricted ATP with 1,000 hours of flight training. UND Aerospace, Embry-Riddle and Purdue University are three of the schools approved to offer students a restricted ATP.]

Air Traffic Controllers Another factor steering students towards a career in aviation management, surprisingly, were the changes years ago in the hiring of air traffic controllers. At one time, 75 percent of the students enrolled in Purdue’s Aviation Management program wanted to be air traffic controllers. But when the FAA changed its hiring requirements for controllers, which allowed for public hiring, the move reduced the need for students to go through the Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI). Purdue was one of 36 schools that provided academic training that enabled participating students to bypass the introductory portion of the training process at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. The CTI program began in 1989.

Purdue dropped out of the CTI program. It “de-emphasized” ATC education/training and moved toward aviation business related courses. Professional Flight, Aeronautical Engineering Technology and Aviation Management are three majors offered today at Purdue Polytechnic.

“We have seen students moving into [aviation] management areas, but I wouldn’t say that we have a lot of flight students switch into management,” said John H. Mott, clinical associate professor and associate head of the Department of Aviation Technology at Purdue University.

In the fall of 2015, Purdue is adding four additional majors to the aviation curriculum: Airline Management and Operations, Airport Management and Operations, Aerospace Financial Analysis and Unmanned Aerial Systems. Delta Air Lines and Republic Airlines are partners in the school’s Industry Purdue Operating Pipeline (IPOP) program, where students become interns at the airlines in summer and, on occasion, during the academic year.

With IPOP, student interns can check out the airline industry and vice versa. “There is a huge advantage on both sides,” said Mott. For airlines, the program helps reduce their hiring costs. For students, the program is an entree to a possible full time job and career, he added.

The Purdue Polytechnic Institute, formerly The College of Technology at Purdue University, is - like many other colleges and universities - moving toward competency-based degree programs. Competency-based pilot training programs are commonplace - at least in discussions and practice, such as the Multi-crew Pilot License (MPL) - but Mott knows of no such programs at the university level. “It is a trend that I see coming,” he said.

School Business North America is home to numerous colleges and universities that offer aviation management degree programs, both undergraduate and graduate. Leading schools include: University of North Dakota, School of Aerospace Sciences; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Purdue University (Polytechnic Institute); University of Western Ontario (UWO); University of Oklahoma, Auburn University; Louisiana Tech University, Northern Kentucky University and Western Michigan University. Many of these schools offer a B.S. degree in aviation management, or a minor in aviation business.

The list goes on. Canada’s McGill University in Montreal offers a graduate degree in Integrated Aviation Management. Courses include Airline Management, Aviation Law and Policy, Air Transportation Finance and Economics, Airport Management, Air Navigation Services Management and Aviation Safety and Security Management. Several colleges and universities in Ontario, Canada offer aviation management programs.

UWO’s business courses include micro- and macro-economics, human resources, financing, accounting and marketing. Airport and airline management, safety, human factors, aviation economics and aviation history also are taught.

Like many internet-savvy universities, UWO uses a “blended” e-learning and on-campus teaching methodology for various subjects, including aviation management. UWO graduates have entered a wide variety of aviation businesses, said Dr. Kearns. Some have gone into the military. One graduate flies the Canadian Prime Minister, while another is a principal of Diamond Aircraft, a manufacturer of general aviation aircraft. Other alumni work for Porter Airlines, Air Canada Jazz, Transport Canada and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation offers Aviation Management and Operations degree program, which focuses on aviation related management subjects as well as general business courses, including economics, finance, accountancy, and business enterprise. It also offers several electives to allow students to concentrate on specific areas of management such as supply chain, organizational behavior, entrepreneurship, airline strategy and multinational management.

Auburn University’s Department of Aviation and Supply Chain Management offers undergraduate degrees in Aviation and Supply Chain Management and Aviation Management. Auburn University has been actively involved in aviation education since 1941.

Numerous colleges and universities have either established or enhanced their aviation management coursework as a result of the increased interest by students in aviation management.

Several schools have added degree programs in supply chain management. At the 2014 Boeing and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Summit, Boeing said it wanted students to have more supply chain experience.

Those schools not associated typically with the aviation business are getting noticed. Oklahoma University trains students to be commercial pilots, while also offering a minor in general business.

Louisiana Tech’s Department of Professional Aviation has cooperative agreements with the Louisiana Airport Managers Association and several Fixed Base Operators in the region. The school offers Bachelor of Science degrees in Professional Aviation, in the pilot track and in Aviation Management.

Texas A&M University - Central Texas (TAMUCT) offers one of the few public-assisted four-year aviation programs in the state, said the school. TAMUCT offers a Bachelor of Science in Aviation degree that provides students with a foundation in aviation science and management.

Colorado State University’s College of Business offers an undergraduate, general program in Supply Chain Management, while Florida Institute of Technology offers a Bachelor of Aviation Management degree program.

Small community colleges too are getting into the act, beefing up their curriculums with aviation business courses. Vaughn College of Aeronautic Engineering, Aviation and Technology, in East Elmhurst, N.Y., offers two- and four-year degree programs in Aviation/Airway Management Operations, as does the Community College of Beaver County, in Monaca, Penn.

Miami Dade College is one school expanding its aviation footprint. Between 700-750 students are enrolled in aviation related programs at Miami Dade College, the largest community college in the US, with 100,000 students. The school has four different associate sciences degrees, including aviation administration, aviation maintenance management, professional pilot technology and transportation and logistics. Miami Dade is in discussions currently with the State of Florida’s Department of Education to offer a four-year undergraduate degree in aeronautical science. No timeline for offering a Bachelor of Science degree has yet been given.

“We are in the middle of a pretty significant transition in aviation,” said Tom Jargiello, director of the school of aviation’s associate degree programs.

Florida Memorial University, a small school located north of Miami, offers a Bachelor of Sciences degree in aviation management and aeronautical sciences, with a concentration in air traffic control and flight education. Capt. A. J. Tolbert, chairperson of the aviation department, said the school’s aviation management program is the school’s “fastest growing program”.

Several colleges and universities continue to add or augment their aviation management degree programs to meet the growing demand by students and industry. Yet, some traditional business schools have yet to develop aviation management programs. A spokesman for the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business dismissed the notion, but did say that the school offered management courses in retailing. The question was posed because several aviation executives have attended Wharton as an undergraduate or graduate student. Former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall, who is credited with developing the first frequent flyer program, earned an MBA in the 1960s from Wharton.

In some ways, colleges and universities have come full circle by offering pilot and business management degrees. Some students graduate with strength in both areas, which acts like a magnet to employers. While young people still dream of a life in the cockpit, some today think a seat in the boardroom would suffice.


A Guiding Influence With healthy balance sheets and growth commencing once again, airlines are on the lookout for talent. Alaska Airlines is one carrier that actively promotes the career opportunities at airlines for aviation management graduates.

“The need for managers today is across-the board,” said Joe Sprague, senior vice president of Alaska Airlines Communications and External Relations. “The more technically oriented positions are needed as the airline’s fleet grows and flights are added.”

On the non-operational side, Alaska Airlines is looking for graduates with experience in digital, e-commerce and mobile technology. “We need more managers with skill sets in these areas,” said Sprague. “They may not be managers in the traditional sense, but we need IT people, programmers and technology developers, like other consumer businesses.”

This is a subject Sprague knows well. He spoke about the need for airline managers at the Aviation Accreditation Board International’s 2015 Industry/Educator Forum. Alaska Airlines is doing more outreach with organizations like AABI to attract prospective airline managers and other employees.

The airline has a formal internship program, which is a pathway for management students to get exposure in numerous areas of the business, including marketing, human resources and corporate communications.

The cost of education continues to go up for prospective professional pilots and managers. Should airlines assume more direct responsibility for the education and training of prospective or full time employees wanting to advance in the airline business?

“The answer is yes,” said Sprague. “Alaska Airlines is looking to do more of that ourselves.”

The support would not be in the form of “cutting a check and letting the student or employee do whatever they want” with the money, said Sprague. “Airlines are looking to support employees that are pursuing educational programs that are specific to this airlines’ needs.”

Alaska Airlines has yet to partner with colleges and universities on aviation management programs. What few arrangements it does have revolves around pilot training because that is where the need is most critical.

“We recognize that we need well trained management people and forming formal bridge programs with aviation universities,” said Sprague. “It is somewhat less critical than getting trained pilots. That said, we recognize the value of these management employees that come out of an aviation university. That suggests a passion for the industry.”