What Does it Mean to Study Aviation Science?
If all you need to fly a plane is a pilot's license, why pursue a degree in aviation science? Though the Commercial Pilot License (CPL) is all that the Federal Aviation Administration requires for the operation of any aircraft, a specialized degree in this field will provide you with a broader and more thorough understanding of aeronautics than you will learn in flight school. As a result, you can qualify for a range of rewarding and exciting positions in this dynamic industry.
Apart from piloting aircraft, the study of aviation science encompasses air traffic control, maintenance of aircrafts and related facilities, flight operations, dispatch operations and communications. Professionally trained pilots often enroll in aviation science degree programs to refresh or deepen their understanding of aeronautics. During a degree program in aviation, you can develop a set of diverse interests that will support your quest for a fulfilling career.
For instance, you may discover that you are interested in the professional development aspects of the field, working with crews on the ground as well as in the air. You may enjoy a mechanically focused career that enables you to develop new aeronautical technology or improved aircraft designs. You may choose a niche field, such as aerial photography for cartographers or aerial firefighting. You could even find yourself piloting a spacecraft for NASA.
If you have a budding interest in the field, an associate degree in aviation science will provide you with a foundational education on the subject. If you are certain that this is the path for you, then a bachelor's degree will set you on the right track.
From an employer's point of view, a degree from a certified aviation science program shows a high level of commitment to the field. Most commercial airlines prefer applicants with college degrees. If you are already a licensed pilot, flight time and certificates can be counted towards your degree, saving both time and money.
What Does an Aviation Professional Do?
Flying a plane requires memorizing and following procedures meticulously. Trained pilots must manage and evaluate:
- Flight plans
- Weather forecasts
- Aircraft load, fuel, oils, and hydraulic fluids
- Repairs made to the aircraft
- State of the aircraft in its entirety
- Flight management systems
- Cabin crew
- Flight crew
- Passenger safety
- Flight of the plane to its destination
- Communication with air traffic control
- Landing of the aircraft
- Write reports and keep a flight log
- Cleanliness of the aircraft
What Are the Benefits of a Career in Aviation Science?
A degree in aviation science can be molded to fit your own vision of your professional future. You may envision yourself working on the ground with a team of qualified professionals to maintain order and efficiency within the elaborate workings of the international air travel industry. You may see yourself in a high-powered well-paying managerial or corporate position in the service of a major airline or government agency.
Or, you may see yourself flying low over sub-Saharan Africa in a propeller plane, tracking the movements of wildebeests, or bringing aide to remote areas of the world. The benefit of a degree in aviation science, apart from the wealth of technical knowledge that it promises, is that it can be anything you want it to be.
Managing People, Not Just Planes
Aviation science is about flying aircraft. However, these vehicles can only fly if there is a solid infrastructure in place to send them off, maintain them, and land them safely. This massive support network requires teams of specialists. Careers in aviation almost always involve working as a member of a team.
The more advanced your degree is, the more management and organizational skills may be required of you. A cohesive and positive team ensures effectiveness, efficiency, and safety. Managing groups of people is a skill that requires a special sensitivity to the intricacies of human interaction. Good management practices involve:
- Improving aircrew communication and attitude
- Identifying attitudes and personality traits that are helpful or harmful to overall crew mentality
- Monitoring strategic and tactical decision making
- Encouraging thorough situation assessment over snap decision-making
- Establishing an open communication with the crew regarding why decisions are made the way they are
- Promoting open and honest discussions after flights addressing what went wrong or right, what could be done differently
- Establishing an atmosphere of respect among all members of the aircrew
- Training crew to recognize signs that lead to accidents by recognizing patterns
- Discussing consequences of rash decision-making and proper air conduct
- Leading by example
Do You Have What It Takes?
All professions require certain strengths and natural abilities and interests. Before embarking on a career path as specialized as aviation science, consider the following natural qualities of a successful aviation scientist or technician:
- Good group skills
- Logical thinking
- High performance under pressure
- Ability to follow procedures
- Ability to get along with a wide variety of people
- Alert and clear-headed work habits
- Quick decision making skills
- Ability to stay focused on one task for an extended time
If you are interested in working as a pilot, you must meet certain basic physical criteria. These requirements include good hearing, good eyesight (with or without glasses), keen reflexes, and overall good health. Using these traits as a foundation, professional aviation specialists develop many of the following skills during their degree programs:
- Technical operation of aircraft and basic flying skills
- Planning and decision-making and record-keeping skills
- Ability to interpret flight plans and navigation data and to make calculations
- Exceptional concentration skills
- Effective skills for communicating with a range of people
Types of Aviation Science Degrees
There are many different aviation science degrees available, depending on your career goals.
Associate Degree Programs in Aviation Science
These two-year programs generally require applicants to hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. Often used to prepare students for bachelor's degrees, associate degrees provide graduates with a general education and foundational knowledge of flight, maintenance, operations and air traffic control.
Recipients of this science degree may choose to seek an entry-level job upon graduation, or apply their associate degree to a bachelor's degree program for greater job opportunities. A wide variety of jobs are available for professionals holding only an associate degree, but graduates holding more advanced degrees will be more competitive in the field.
Bachelor's Degree Programs in Aviation Science
Coursework in a four-year Bachelor of Science program will be more in-depth and rigorous than that of an associate degree. The bachelor's degree in aviation science combines flight training with academic coursework. Graduates will be qualified to work as commercial pilots, flight instructors, or corporate pilots. Alternatively, careers may be available in governmental agencies or the military.
During a bachelor's degree program, students earn two professional qualifications. The first is a degree in science. The other is a commercial pilot license. Enough science and engineering is covered in this degree track that you may decide to pursue a career in a non-aviation discipline. A handful of graduates apply their skills in research laboratories or in other engineering settings.
Online Degree Programs in Aviation Science
With recent advancements in technology and communication, many accredited colleges are now able to offer online degrees in aviation science or management. Online programs serve the needs of students who cannot enroll in an on-campus program because of geographic or time constraints. Most of the coursework will be done online under the instruction of a properly qualified educator. Fieldwork will be necessary for the completion of some online degrees; this can often be arranged locally.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Aviation Science?
Career options for aspiring pilots and aviation science professionals
Pilots, air traffic controllers, aircraft mechanics, managers, flight operators, flight instructors, dispatch operations managers... These are just a few of the applications of a degree in aviation science. This section lists a variety of jobs available in this field with a brief description of responsibilities.
Career Opportunities for Pilots
- Cargo Operations. Efficiencies in cargo plane design, along with the increasingly urgent needs of business, have shifted many package delivery services to the air. Less experienced pilots can gain flight hours on large jets without having to worry about planes full of nervous passengers.
- Charter Operations. As more business executives rely on private planes and shared-time flight arrangements, many aviation science graduates find themselves piloting small, chartered aircraft. Pilots employed by regional charter companies can start their careers with annual salaries of $50,000, while professionals employed as in-house pilots by large corporations can earn six-figure salaries that rival those of commercial airlines.
- Passenger Operations. Though consolidation and cost-cutting moves within the airline industry have frustrated experienced pilots, many lucrative positions have opened up for new pilots at discount and regional airlines. Federal agencies strictly regulate working hours, working conditions, and flight schedules. New pilots working on small, regional planes often earn $43,000 or more during their first year. As pilots gain flight hours and experience with larger aircraft, they can earn annual salaries of $140,000 with additional bonuses for customer satisfaction and on-time performance
- Military Pilot. All branches of the military actively recruit aviation science majors to pilot experimental aircraft. Experienced professionals can lead teams of fighters. Other graduates use their scientific skills to run sophisticated refueling craft that support long haul flights and critical missions. Experienced military pilots can earn close to $100,000 in annual salary by the end of their commissions, paving the way for a lucrative career as a commercial pilot while enjoying healthy retirement benefits.
- Flight Instructor. Many aviation science graduates help private pilots earn their certifications at small flight schools. Instructors develop lesson plans and training techniques, while enjoying the relative freedom of working with smaller aircraft in low-pressure situations. Many flight instructors earn annual salaries of around $41,000.
- Astronaut. Employed by NASA, these experienced engineers and scientists work just as hard on the ground as they do in space. Most astronauts earn about $80,000 per year, while enjoying the significant benefits of involvement with the space program.
- Aerial Photography. Mapping companies, real estate brokers, and commercial developers hire aviation science graduates to capture sophisticated images of land and buildings. For aviation science professionals who want to express themselves creatively, this specialty offers the opportunity to earn lucrative fees or recurring royalties, depending on how their work is used.
- Agricultural Operations. It may sound quaint, but crop dusters and cloud seeders still play a very important role in our country's agricultural industry. The most successful agricultural pilots combine their aerobatic skill with their knowledge of chemistry and physics to help farmers maximize their crop yields.
- Traffic/News Reporting. As news outlets compete for the most compelling images of breaking events, aviation science graduates use their skills to create flight paths and holding patterns on the fly. Many stations now hire helicopter pilots who can report on breaking news stories and traffic conditions while they fly their aircraft and operate remote-controlled cameras. Base salaries for most of these positions start at $40,000 per year, although private endorsements and performance bonuses can drastically increase a professional's income.
- Public Safety. Governmental and law enforcement agencies employ pilots to transport people and cargo, enforce roadway speed limits from the air, track criminals, and perform search and rescue missions. Fires that are burning out of the control of ground units or in remote locations require the assistance of aerial firefighters.
- Wildlife Services. Pilots are used in remote areas of the world to monitor and study the movement and activities of wildlife. Data collected includes animal migration and population statistics.
- Tour Operations. Pilots in scenic resorts and major cities offer unusual aerial tours for vacationers and business travelers. Aviation science graduates use all of their skills to maneuver their aircraft through complex flight paths while entertaining guests.
- Remote Flying. Many places on earth can only be reached by way of aircraft. Remote or "bush" flying requires that the pilot have special skills for landing in challenging and unpredictable landscapes. These highly specialized pilots often work for government agencies or for international charitable organizations.
Career Opportunities for Managerial and Business Positions
Non-flying positions in aviation are available in airlines, airports, aerospace companies, and governmental aviation agencies.
- Air Traffic Controller. Many aviation science professionals use their multitasking skills in these high-profile, high-pressure positions. Often working directly for the FAA, air traffic controllers coordinate the takeoffs, holding patterns, and landings of dozens of airplanes simultaneously. These professionals use state-of-the-art equipment to monitor all of the aircraft in range of their landing strip. They assure pilots and passengers of orderly, safe flight operations.
- Safety Inspector. Many pilots and mechanics who want to work more regular schedules can shift into careers as safety inspectors for the FAA. They ensure that all aircraft meet government and company specifications.
- Airport Manager. Aviation science graduates can leverage their business skills by running one our nation's growing airports. Communities of all sizes now boast thriving airports. Each one requires a manager who can navigate complex federal regulations and labor agreements. Managers of larger facilities tend to earn more in base salary, although most airport managers earn annual bonuses based on efficiency and overall performance.
- Aircraft Maintenance.Aircraft maintenance technicians work with all aspects of an aircraft. Technicians maintain and install engines, airframes, and electrics including the cockpit instruments and radio systems. They are also responsible for the external and structural integrity of the aircrafts including windows, doors, all moveable parts, and sheet metal. Aircraft inspections take place periodically based on the number of hours the aircraft has been in flight or the number of days since the last inspection. The plane is then inspected for safety in parts such as:
- landing gear
- pressurized sections
- air-conditioning systems