In this article:
What is an Aviation Degree?
Aviation is about more than piloting aircraft. Therefore, the discussion of earning a degree in the field must necessarily include the wide spectrum of roles that it includes – because the position determines the kind and the level of degree required. The course of study chosen by an aspiring pilot will differ from that selected by someone who wants to be an air traffic controller, dispatcher, or aircraft mechanic; or play a part in aviation management or in the research, design, testing, and building of aircraft.
Because of the scope of the aviation industry, numerous concentrations exist in the field, including aviation management, flight operations, aeronautical technology, and avionics engineering. Students who wish to pursue a degree in aviation should carefully consider the employment opportunities that come with both these specific degree disciplines and specific degree levels:
Associate Degree in Aeronautical Science
Associate degree programs typical last about two years and cover both general education coursework and the basic fundamentals of flight operations, aircraft maintenance, and air traffic control. While this level of degree may be sufficient for some entry-level / junior positions in the aviation industry, it is more commonly a stepping stone to continued education in the field.
Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Science
These four-year programs are available in professional flight management (commercial airline and private jet pilots), flight instruction, aviation maintenance and engineering (mechanics), air traffic management (dispatchers and air traffic controllers), and airport management and operations. During this degree program, students can earn two professional qualifications: a science degree in aeronautics and a commercial pilot’s license.
Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering
Aeronautical engineering degree programs have a technical focus – on aircraft design, structure, building, dynamics, systems, and testing.
Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Science
A Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Science is often pursued by individuals preparing for careers in engineering, management, or education. These degree programs address topics such as aviation safety, human factors in aviation, airport operations management, and aerospace technology.
Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering
This graduate degree program in aeronautical engineering includes coursework in aircraft development, design, mechanics, controls, dynamics, propulsion, and manufacturing.
Note: To enrol in a master’s degree program in aeronautical science or aeronautical engineering, students must generally hold a relevant bachelor’s degree.
Degrees Similar to Aviation
As noted above and addressed in more detail in the section following this one, there is a variety of degree options within the aviation discipline. There are also several other degrees that, while not specifically aviation-focused, do respond to students’ interest in science- and technology- related education tracks:
The main difference between a degree in aerospace engineering and one in aviation or aeronautics is this: aerospace degree programs typically cover both aerospace and aeronautics specializations; aeronautics degrees focus only on aircraft that fly within the Earth’s atmosphere.
This discipline has a close connect to aviation. It is concerned with statics and dynamics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, stress analysis, mechanical design, and technical drawing – all of which play a role in aircraft design.
There is considerable overlap between aeronautics and electrical engineering, which deals with the technology of electricity as it relates to a wide range of components, devices, and systems, from microchips to power station generators.
Metallurgical engineers apply science, math, and engineering principles to extract various kinds of metal from ore. They help develop minerals used in many products, identify the cause of defects in metals, and recommend possible solutions. These engineers are prominent in all industries in which strong metals are utilized, including electronics, heavy equipment, automotive, and aerospace.
Civil Engineering and Structural Engineering
These two engineering disciplines are very similar to each other. Simply stated, all structural engineers are civil engineers, but not all civil engineers are structural engineers. Structural engineers design the form and shape of manmade structures. They calculate the strength and stability of buildings and other structures. These other structures include airplanes.
This degree option is targeted at prospective engineers who wish to work in the shipbuilding sector of the transportation industry. There are, of course, similarities to the degree programs in the aerospace / aeronautics sector. Both fields seek broad technical knowledge of vessel (ship or aircraft) design, operation, and maintenance.
Mathematics and Computer Science
An understanding of mathematics and computing is key in many roles within the aviation industry. These degrees are targeted at students with an appreciation for both mathematical reasoning and the science of computing – two components which are increasingly interdependent.
Skills You'll Learn
Students who earn a degree in aviation tend to develop a particular set of personal characteristics and skills, many of which are transferrable to roles in other professional fields:
- Comfort with evolving technologies
- Exceptional concentration / focus skills
- Ability to follow procedures
- Planning skills
- Analytical and interpretive skills
- Capacity to think logically and critically to assess situations and make the right decisions quickly, sometimes under pressure – especially in pilot and air traffic control positions
- Abilities to communicate, collaborate, and work in partnerships
What Can You Do with an Aviation Degree?
Of course, flying aircraft is at the heart of the aviation industry. But before take-off, inflight, and after landing, there is a significant infrastructure that makes flight possible. This large support network of specialists makes up the spectrum of occupational categories available to aviation graduates:
In most countries, opportunities exist with both national and regional airlines. Some large international carriers also hire and maintain inflight crews in foreign countries in which they operate.
Some large corporations prefer to fly their executives on private planes. While this is, of course, a smaller niche, pilots in this sector can earn salaries that rival those paid by commercial airlines.
Freight and package air delivery services continue to grow and offer another employment option for licensed pilots.
National air forces consistently need to recruit and train aviation specialists in several areas, including flying, engineering, electronics, design, management, flight planning, and operations.
Flight Operations / Dispatch
Specialists in this field usually work in airline operations centers. Known as flight dispatchers, airline dispatchers, flight operations officers, or flight followers, they plan flight paths based on aircraft specifications, weather conditions, turbulence forecasts, airspace restrictions, and airport conditions. In addition, they maintain contact with pilots and advise them of any changes in flying conditions.
Air Traffic Control (ATC)
ATC is a fundamental part of aviation. Positions in this sector – coordinating and controlling takeoffs, holding patterns, and landings of aircraft – are high-profile and high-pressure.
Airport Management, Operations, and Administration
Airports, especially large ones, offer a variety of employment possibilities. Many airports have multiple departments, including communications and public relations, legal, infrastructure maintenance, ground handling, quality assurance and customer service, aviation services and business development, safety and security, and human resources.
Aerial Firefighting / Agricultural Operations
Aerial firefighting, crop dusting, and cloud seeding pilots and technicians comprise additional employment opportunities for aviation graduates.
Wildlife associations and government agencies that monitor and study the migration and activities of wildlife present another occupational option for aviation grads.
Remote or ‘bush’ flying refers to the places on earth that can only be reached by aircraft and present challenging landscapes for landing. The pilots and technicians in this sector are extremely specialized and often work for government agencies and/or international charitable organizations.
Aviation graduates also find work with law enforcement and government agencies entrusted with public safety, including the enforcement of roadway speed limits from the air, performing search and rescue missions, and tracking criminals.
Air ambulance and medical evacuation services also employ pilots and other aviation specialists.
Traffic / News Reporting
Television and radio stations often hire helicopter or small aircraft pilots to give them an edge in reporting and in the breaking of new stories.
Many urban centers and scenic resorts offer aerial tours for visitors.
Graduates who study the mechanics and avionics facet of the aviation industry inspect, maintain, and install engines, landing gear, and cockpit instruments and systems. They are also concerned with the structural integrity of aircraft doors, windows, and general airframe.
Aircraft Safety Inspection
This occupational category is centered in the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), Transport Canada, and other government agencies responsible for ensuring that aircraft meet government and company specifications.
Flight Training and Instruction
After amassing a lot of time in the air as a licensed pilot and earning instructor certification, aviation professionals can teach in the field.
Aerospace / Aircraft Design and Engineering
Professionals in this field research and develop new flight systems and aircraft to meet safety and performance standards. They focus on flight mechanics, aerodynamics, stress analysis, and structural design.
Aviation graduates with a passion for both flying and creativity can consider a career in aerial photography, capturing images of land and landmarks for mapping companies, real estate firms, and commercial developers.
Learn about your career prospects after graduation.Read about Career Paths