You’ve probably seen ads in pilot publications or social media platforms touting the virtues of graduate programs in aviation. While many options can help boost your career, this post focuses on the many benefits of earning a Masters in Aviation Science (sometimes also called “aeronautical science.”)
In general, people who have a Masters degree out-earn those with a high school education or a Bachelor’s degree. They also have more flexibility in job choice and might find the route to their chosen careers less rocky. With a pilot shortage on, possibilities abound. A Master’s in Aviation Science can help anyone interested in the field.
What Is Aviation Science?
Aviation Science involves the study of all aspects of the aviation industry. It goes far beyond the cockpit in its scope and analyzes the individual sectors of the aviation community, as well as the many ways in which the people within it can work most effectively. Courses can involve deep dives into airport operation, management strategies for airlines, air traffic control, human factors, maintenance systems, marketing, aviation public policy, and more.
Aviation science courses may involve group projects as well as individual study. They might delve into psychology, crew management, or even cockpit design. A smattering of law study is a potential course offering to prepare candidates for working with airport authorities as well as the federal government. Aviation science students might also take communications, technical writing, business writing, or even some meteorology. While some technical aviation courses might be required, particularly as pre-requisites, these tend not to cover those that, for example, an engineering student might tackle. Many Aviation Science students declare a concentration in a certain area, while others are eager to explore as widely as possible.
The best Aviation Science programs are challenging and broadly based. They focus on all aspects of aviation and might include a final project asking students near graduation to demonstrate their mastery in the subject matter. While most aviation-focused universities offer a Masters in Aviation Science, it’s also possible to find them in general institutions as well.
There are many factors to keep in mind while choosing where to earn your Masters in Aviation Science. Seek out those who have graduated from programs which are a good match for you and ask how they have helped in their careers. Look at the faculty of the colleges which you are interested in attending—their expertise, their careers in aviation, and their contributions to the industry.
While most traditional Masters programs last about two years and demand in-person attendance, it’s a good idea to also consider attending a Master’s program online, especially if you are in any form of flight training or already working as an aviation professional. Air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight instructors can work odd or unpredictable hours, and many online courses are offered “asynchronously,” meaning that while assignments come with hard deadlines, students can access course material remotely and on a schedule which fits theirs.
Online Masters programs tend to cost less than traditional classroom formats since physical structures and all the expensive upkeep that goes with them are not necessary. A reputable online program offers the same career benefits as a brick and mortar college, including student leadership opportunities, assistance with resumes, and job placement programs.
Crack Open the Aviation Job Market
It’s true that many piloting jobs do not demand a college degree, but most airlines prefer at least a BS or BA. (Delta alone demands one as a baseline.) Some will accept equivalent military experience. Why, then, aim for a Masters degree?
Not all pilots wish to build a career entirely inside the cockpit, and some like to split their careers between flying airplanes and to serve aviation in other ways. And not all pilots desire to spend their lives with an airline. Some would like to become full time, career-long corporate pilots, flight instructors, or military flyers. Some of these careers are greatly enhanced by a resume with a Master’s degree in Aviation Science. A quick scan of non-airline piloting jobs reveal that some even require a Master’s degree in Aviation Science or a similar field.
A Master’s in Aviation Science can provide many career opportunities for a pilot. They could move into administration as a Chief Pilot, helping to act as a liaison between pilots and the administration of the company for which they work. Others can become involved in managing an airport or airport operations. Those interested in government might move into work as a lobbyist, committee member, or consultant.
A Pilot, But Not a Wage-Earning One
The majority of aviation careers aren’t even in the cockpit. Any truly professional pilot knows that without the careers of many others, he or she would rarely if ever, leave the ground. Those who enjoy flying might complete their private, instrument, and even commercial certificates without ever earning a wage as a pilot. Such people can also contribute to the aviation community with a Masters in Aviation Science.
For those who do earn a living in the cockpit, it’s also important to consider the possibility of losing one’s medical clearance to earn a living as a pilot. In the event of an accident or sudden illness, a pilot without experience in other fields or a higher degree might find his or her options limited.
The FAA also mandates a retirement age for pilots in addition to in-company requirements. Some pilots who reach this ceiling may not be ready to stop earning a salary for any number of reasons, including debt, desire to support children and grandchildren, or a simple reluctance to leave the profession. Earning a Masters in Aviation Science can act as an insurance policy as well as a retirement plan.
A Masters in Aviation Science will allow a pilot to turn his or her knowledge into a second career, if not a backup one. Many publications, companies, medical offices, and engineering firms might welcome the input and expertise of a seasoned pilot who also offers academic polish.
Mr. Matthew A. Johnston has over 23 years of experience serving various roles in education and is currently serving as the President of California Aeronautical University. He maintains memberships and is a supporting participant with several aviation promoting and advocacy associations including University Aviation Association (UAA), Regional Airline Association (RAA), AOPA, NBAA, and EAA with the Young Eagles program. He is proud of his collaboration with airlines, aviation businesses and individual aviation professionals who are working with him to develop California Aeronautical University as a leader in educating aviation professionals.