Career opportunities in the aviation industry require varied amounts of education. For example, flight attendants or aircraft maintenance technicians may only need a certificate or associate's degree, while pilots and air traffic controllers may need a bachelor's degree. Those interested in working as airport managers or aviation researchers may need a master's degree. This is because certificate programs tend to have more generalized curricula while degree programs can be specialized. Additionally, aspiring aviation students may need to attend a school with specialized aviation training facilities. Beyond a degree, some of these jobs may require licensure or certification.
Associate's and bachelor's degree programs require incoming students to have a GED or high school diploma and a strong background in math and science. Master's programs look for students with a bachelor's degree and some require that they are certified pilots in the FAA.
Certificate in Aviation Technology
Some technical schools and community colleges offer certificate programs in aviation technology that cover basic concepts in air traffic control, aircraft repair and piloting. These programs prepare graduates for more advanced study in the field or entry-level careers. Some certificate programs instruct on several aspects of the discipline, while other emphasize a specific facet, like aircraft electronics or aircraft frame maintenance. Courses on the following subjects are often required:
- Aircraft frame maintenance
- Aircraft blueprints
- Aircraft electronics
- Propeller maintenance
- Aviation mathematics
Associate of Applied Science in Aviation Management
Associate of Applied Science (AAS) programs in aviation management often focus on a specific area of the field, such as air traffic control, flight training or flight management. Programs cover the business and management aspects of aviation in addition to the technical and mechanical facets. Students gain practical experience through simulations and hands-on work with industry equipment.
AAS aviation programs teach students to work with several current aircraft makes and models. Classes at this level cover the business, technical and personnel areas of air travel. Topics include:
- Air travel safety
- History of aviation
- Commercial piloting
- Airport management
- Air traffic control
Bachelor of Science in Aviation Management
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) programs for aviation management usually offer a more specialized curriculum than certificate or associate's degree programs. Students take advanced coursework in areas such as aircraft repair, piloting or aviation management. Programs offer a combination of classroom instruction and simulated or hands-on practice.
Aviation school programs offer courses in flight theory, aircraft systems, crew resource management (CRM), meteorology, air traffic control and global navigation. Classroom training is substantially supplemented by flight labs, in which students undergo hands-on training via sophisticated flight simulators. Classes on the following topics are usually offered:
- Flight simulation
- Aviation operation control
- Law and regulation in aviation
- Commercial pilot fundamentals
- Air traffic control methods
Master of Science in Aviation
Master of Science (M.S.) programs in aviation teach students specialized technical knowledge about air travel and air cargo. Students learn the research and statistical methods behind aircraft and aviation, as well as scientific knowledge about aviation technology. Most M.S. in Aviation programs offer extensive hands-on instruction.
Master's degree program aviation classes cover advanced technical knowledge, aviation theory, aviation business and air travel law. Students usually complete an original thesis as part of their coursework. Topics may include:
- Aviation and the environment
- Aviation statistical analysis
- Legal aspects of aviation
- Aviation economics
- Aerospace science
Popular Career Options
M.S. in Aviation graduates often work for governmental agencies, commercial airlines or research institutions. They may hold technical, business or research positions. A B.S. in Aviation Management program prepares graduates for administrative and technical careers in the air travel and air cargo industries. Some advanced aviation positions may require several years of work experience. Those with an associate's degree in aviation qualify for a number of careers in the air travel and air cargo industries. Graduates can work for airports, commercial airlines or air freighters. Earning a certificate in aviation technology prepares graduates for entry-level careers in aircraft exterior maintenance, airline customer service and aircraft electronics repair. Common careers, based on degree levels, are listed below:
Certificate Program Graduates:
- Flight attendant
- Aircraft maintenance technician
- Airport customer service representative
Associate's Degree Graduates:
- Air traffic control assistant
- Air cargo transporter
- Airport management assistant
Bachelor's Degree Graduates:
- Commercial pilots
- Air traffic controllers
- Airline business managers
Master's Degree Graduates:
- Aviation researcher
- Airport manager
- Air traffic analyst
Continuing Education Information
Aviation professionals such as pilots and air traffic controllers are required to be certified by the FAA. Pilots need to complete ongoing flight training, while air traffic controllers must graduate from an FAA-approved training program. Aircraft maintenance workers need to be certified mechanics. Each of these roles may require continued education or recertification throughout the course of their aviation careers.
Career and Employment Outlook
Airline and commercial pilots can expect to see a 5% increase in jobs from 2014 to 2024, according to BLS predictions. Median annual income for airline pilots as of May 2015 was $117,290 and that of commercial pilots was $76,150.
To provide a salary perspective for one such option, aircraft mechanics and service technicians brought in median annual pay of $58,370 in 2015 and can expect little to no change in jobs from 2014 to 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Aircraft cargo handling supervisors, as an example, brought in a median salary of $45,470 as of May 2015, as reported by the BLS.
Of these, air traffic controllers have one of the highest paying careers, bringing in a median annual income of $122,950 as of May 2015. Although, a 9% decline in these jobs is expected from 2014 to 2024, due to NextGen satellite-based systems that allow controllers to handle more air traffic, according to the BLS.
University and college programs in aviation are offered at the certificate, associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Depending on the level of education earned, graduates can pursue various aviation jobs ranging from flight attendants to airport managers.