What is an Aviation Management Degree?

Aviation is one of the world’s most dynamic industries. Aviation management programs prepare students for careers as aviation managers that are employed by airports, airlines, and related businesses.

Areas of study from an aviation perspective include accounting, finance, and economic analysis, operations and scheduling, marketing and communications, safety and security and regulatory systems, technology and sustainability, and human resources and organizational behavior. You might say that getting a degree in this field is the best way to get your aviation management career off the ground and land a job.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Aviation Management – Two Year Duration
Aviation management associate programs provide students with knowledge of aviation and business basics, and touch upon contemporary issues and trends facing air transportation and airport management. The typical curriculum also incorporates a liberal arts component with courses in areas such as communication and writing, the social sciences, the physical sciences, mathematics, and computer skills.

At this level, some schools offer the narrower-focus degree in airport management. In general, associate education in this field serves as a foundation for further studies in a bachelor’s program.

Here is a sampling of core courses comprising associate programs:

  • Introduction to Human Factors – introduction to the field of human-computer interaction; analysis of aircraft accidents and industrial safety concepts; aircraft design
  • Introduction to Aviation – a foundational overview of aviation, including aircraft components, basic aerodynamics, airports, air traffic control (ATC), airspace, regulations, performance, weight and balance, aeronautical factors, aviation weather, and air navigation
  • Aviation Planning – introduction to the requirements, issues, and processes involved in aviation planning, including the sources of aviation data, forecasting methods, the airport master planning process, and environmental issues and requirements
  • Airport Transportation Management – an overview of the development of the air transportation system leading to the modern organization and functions of airlines and the aviation business in general; topics include route structure, scheduling, pricing, fleet selection, and solving typical operational problems
  • National Airspace System – study of the political, geographical, and operational structures of the national airspace system; topics include ATC responsibilities, airfield operations, and special-use airspace management
  • Aviation Safety – a look at the historical roots of modern safety organizations and the safety responsibilities and operations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB); examination of aviation safety planning, icing conditions, and human-centered accidents

Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Management – Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, it is quite common for students to focus on a specific segment of the aviation industry, either airline management or airport management. Regardless of the chosen track, however, the curriculum is founded on core courses in aerospace and aviation management. With a bachelor’s, graduates generally qualify for entry-level and mid-level positions.

The following is an example of a bachelor’s curriculum in aviation management:

Aerospace Core

  • Introduction to Aerospace – history of aerospace, opportunities in the field, fundamentals of flight, navigation, meteorology, FAA regulations
  • Theory of Flight – introduction to the four forces of aerodynamics that act upon an airplane in flight: lift, thrust, drag, and weight; the physics and mathematics necessary to understand the various aspects of flight
  • Aerospace Materials – materials used in aerospace applications throughout their development from the standpoint of their properties, economic impact, and future possibilities; the need for new materials to fill current requirements
  • Propulsion Fundamentals – principles of operations, major components, and important features of typical propulsion systems used in aircraft
  • Professional Aviation Pathways – career preparation; topics include professionalism and ethics, industry issues and trends, the necessity for lifelong learning, the career planning process

Aviation Management Core

  • Aviation Laws and Regulations – introduction to FAA aviation regulations concerning airmen / airwomen certification and aircraft operations
  • Aviation Weather – basic weather theory, meteorology, characteristics of the atmosphere, weather observation and forecasts, and weather phenomena affecting the safety of flight
  • Airline Management – the organizational structure and economic characteristics of US air carriers; topics include passenger forecasting, route selection, marketing, scheduling, fleet planning, labor relations, and ticket pricing
  • Freight Systems – an overview of cargo systems and transportation freight rates; analysis of transportation issues and the relationship between the shipper, the modes of transportation, and the consumer
  • Airport Management – an overview of airport management functions, including regulatory requirements, service facilities, traffic control, financing, personnel, public relations, environmental issues, and the impact of airports within their communities
  • Aviation Contracts and Leases – examination of the various agreements used by airports to define the terms and conditions for airlines, fixed-based operators (FBOs lease land from the airport and provide support services such as fueling, parking, and aircraft maintenance to general aviation operators), concessionaires, air cargo operators, and other airport tenants
  • Aviation Safety – comprehensive analysis of the principles, practices, and regulatory environment of safety in aviation operations; these include human factors and best practices, approaches to safety management, the role of government agencies in aviation safety, and the requirements of the safety management systems; examination of case studies of aircraft accidents or incidents to identify potential risks and hazards in the flight environment
  • Crew Resource Management (CRM) – CRM as a cornerstone of modern aviation safety; the effective use of human, hardware, software, and information resources related to all aviation professions
  • Instrument Operations in the National Airspace System – introduction to flight in the instrument flight rules (IFR) environment; topics include flight instrument systems, instrument navigation concepts, IFR communications, instrument charts and procedures (departure, enroute, approach, and arrival), and aviation weather in the IFR environment
  • Airport Operations – an overview of airport landside and airside operations; topics include passenger terminal operations, airport security, FAA regulations, and inspection programs
  • Fixed Base Operations (FBO) Management – the essential role of the FBO operator in general aviation

Airline Management Track – Sample Courses

  • Airline Industry Issues and Solutions
  • Human Resources Management
  • International Business / The Global Context in which Airlines Operate

Airport Management Track – Sample Courses

  • Airport Capacity and Planning
  • Supply Chain Operations
  • Managerial Decision Making

Graduate Certificate in Aviation Management – Varying Durations
Graduate certificate programs are targeted at professionals working in the field who are seeking to enhance their management and leadership skills, or at managers transitioning into civil aviation. Some may focus specifically on airport management, airline management, or air cargo and logistics management, but more typically they concentrate on wider topics such as aviation strategic management, human resources management, and business planning and decision making, as well as critical issues facing the industry. These programs, sometimes offered in partnership with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), provide an alternative to master’s studies in aviation management.

Here are some possible certificate-level courses:

  • Fundamentals of Strategy
  • Measuring Performance
  • Integrating Leadership and Strategy
  • Fundamentals of HR Management
  • Human Resources Planning
  • Developing Leadership and Engagement
  • Business Fundamentals
  • Analytics and Planning
  • Decision Making for High Performance

Master’s Degree in Aviation Management / Master of Business Administration in Aviation Management – Two Year Duration
Master’s programs in aviation management address topics such as operational analysis, safety systems development, project management, systems integration, environmental sustainability, and related interdisciplinary skills which prepare individuals for senior executive roles.

Courses at this level may include:

  • Research Methods in Aviation
  • Quantitative Research Methodologies in Transportation
  • Resource Analysis and Optimization
  • Aviation Leadership
  • International Civil Aviation Regulatory Systems
  • Contemporary Issues in Transportation Security
  • Aviation Graduate Professional Practice Internship
  • Aviation Fuels and Exhaust Emissions
  • Aircraft Lifecycle Management
  • Airline Revenue Management
  • Aircraft Asset Management
  • Aircraft Leasing
  • Human Errors and Safety
  • Managing the Risk of Organizational Accidents
  • Aviation Technology
  • Data Analysis of Aviation-Related Problems
  • Aviation and Aerospace Sustainability
  • Airport and Transportation Sustainability
  • Aviation Safety Program Development

Degrees Similar to Aviation Management

Aerospace Engineering
Aerospace engineering degree programs teach the analytical, computational, and engineering and design skills needed to work in the aerospace industry. Students learn how to apply this knowledge to the manufacturing, testing, and monitoring of civil or commercial aircraft, military aircraft, missiles, rockets, spacecraft, lunar vehicles, and space stations.

Aviation is about more than piloting aircraft. The course of study chosen by an aspiring pilot will differ from that selected by someone who wants to be a dispatcher, an aviation mechanic, or an airport manager.

Business Administration
Business administration is about overseeing a business’s finances, staffing, and contract negotiations. Degree programs in the field, therefore, teach students how to plan, organize, and direct all the activities of an organization.

Homeland Security
Homeland security degree programs prepare students to work in the areas of intelligence, counter-terrorism, border security, and emergency management. The typical curriculum addresses topics like intelligence methods, understanding terrorism, assessing perceived threats, emergency services, emergency exercises, disaster preparedness, and crisis communication.

Hospitality Management
Degree programs in hospitality management teach students how to operate hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that serve business travelers and vacationers. Coursework may vary from one curriculum to another, depending on whether the program offers general hospitality management training or is focused on a specialty area, such as travel agency operations, restaurant management, or hotel management.

International Business
Students of international business study business from a global perspective. They learn how to work cross-culturally, how to manage multinational businesses, and how to turn local and national companies into international corporations. Coursework often includes some foreign language studies, as well.

Skills You’ll Learn

Students who earn a degree in aviation management tend to develop a particular set of personal characteristics and skills, many of which are transferrable to roles in other professional fields:

  • Abilities to communicate, collaborate, and work in partnerships
  • Ability to follow procedures
  • Accounting
  • Advanced management concepts and best practices
  • Analytical and interpretive skills
  • Business-oriented software and computer applications
  • Capacity to think logically and critically to assess situations and make the right decisions quickly, sometimes under pressure
  • Comfort with evolving technologies
  • Dependability and reliability
  • Finance
  • International business
  • Marketing
  • Organizational behavior and design
  • Organizational leadership / ethical leadership
  • Problem solving
  • Project planning and implementation
  • Self confidence
  • Self-awareness / knowing one’s limitations

What Can You Do with an Aviation Management Degree?

The two principal sectors of commercial aviation – airports and airlines – are complex operations. Management careers in these sectors, therefore, are more diverse than many people think. Below is an overview of the field’s career landscape.

Teams that oversee the operation and management of an international airport typically include these or similar roles:

  • President and Chief Executive Officer – leads the management team
  • Vice President, Business Development – is responsible for finding ways to support the community and regional economy while generating revenue for the airport, including commercial partnerships
  • Vice President, People and Brand – is responsible for all of the people-focused areas of the business, including HR, health and safety, supply management, and marketing and communications
  • Vice President, Innovation and Chief Information Officer – is responsible for all aspects of information technology at the airport
  • Vice President, Legal Services and Chief Governance Officer – is a lawyer and is responsible for the legal, privacy, and insurance portfolios
  • Vice President, Airport Capacity and System Design – is responsible for capacity management, airport system design, baggage operations, and airside operations
  • Vice President, Passenger Journey – is responsible for day-of-journey operations, emergency response, customer care and experience, in-terminal food and beverage and retail, security, and emergency planning
  • Vice President, Strategic Customer Relationships – is responsible for supporting the success of the airport’s largest airline customers, i.e., the airlines with the largest presence at the airport
  • Vice President, Airport Development and Asset Optimization – is responsible for ensuring the realization of long-term value from all assets and infrastructure through effective planning, project delivery, and maintenance
  • Vice President, Finance and Chief Financial Officer – is responsible for the finance, accounting, enterprise risk management, and sustainability reporting

Teams that oversee the operation and management of an international airline typically include these or similar roles:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – leads the management team
  • President – leads and oversees the airline’s external-facing functions, including the government affairs, regulatory, corporate communications, advertising, market and community innovation, legal, global community engagement, and environmental sustainability teams
  • Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer – is responsible for developing and implementing the airline’s communications, advertising, and community engagement strategies
  • Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer – is responsible for overseeing inflight services, corporate real estate, contact centers and customer care, customer strategy and innovation, and customer experience and analytics
  • Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and Global Public Policy – is responsible for leading the airline’s federal, state, and international government engagement
  • Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Labor Relations – is responsible for the employee experience; recruiting, developing, and retaining top talent; and building effective customer service teams; works closely with the airline’s labor partners
  • Executive Vice President, Strategy and Planning – is focused on critical issues including safety, hygiene, and building a more operationally efficient airline
  • Executive Vice President, Technology and Chief Digital Officer – is responsible for information technology, data analytics, digital products, e-commerce, cyber security, and the airline’s digital strategy
  • Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer – is responsible for developing the airline’s overall financial strategy, including cost management, capital allocation, and balance sheet optimization
  • Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer – oversees cargo, pricing and revenue management, network and commercial strategy, sales, marketing functions, and the airline’s loyalty program
  • Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer – is responsible for all airports, flight operations, technical operations, network operations, ground operations, as well as safety across the airline’s network

In addition to working for airports and airlines, aviation management graduates may find employment with:

  • Fixed-Base Operators (FBOs)
  • Air cargo companies
  • Aircraft manufacturers
  • Government departments and agencies such as the Federal Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Transportation Safety Board


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