Studying Aviation Technology: Degrees at a Glance
Aviation technology degree programs can prepare you for careers ranging from technician or mechanic to pilot, air traffic controller or airport manager. Aviation technology degree programs vary in focus at both the associate's and bachelor's levels, and you can find programs emphasizing pilot training, maintenance or administration.
A career in aviation may seem like an excellent idea. Aside from the romantic notion of being in the clouds, flying is a main transportation form for travel and cargo shipping. However, employment prospects for some aviation professionals are less than robust. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) 2010-2020 projections, maintenance technicians may see a lower-than-average 6% employment growth, and air traffic controllers may see a 3% decline in employment. However, pilots could see an average 11% job growth during this same decade.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals looking for entry-level employment in the aviation field as technicians, mechanics or pilots||Individuals interested in seeking employment in aviation management|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary)|| - Aviation maintenance technician ($55,000)* |
- Airline pilot ($118,000)*
- Commercial pilot ($76,000)*
| - Air traffic controller ($114,00)* |
- Aviation manager ($169,000)**
|Time to Completion||2 years full-time||4 years full-time|
|Common Graduation Requirements||Flight training (for piloting programs)||Flight training (for piloting programs)|
|Prerequisites|| - High school diploma |
- Placement test scores (such as SAT)
| - High school diploma |
- Minimum SAT scores
|Online Availability||Limited availability||Limited availability|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (September 2012 figures).
Associate's Degree in Aviation Technology
Aviation technology associate's degrees are typically offered as an Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Occupational Studies. While most of these 2-year programs are designed to train aviation maintenance technicians, some programs train you to become a pilot. Many of these programs prepare you to take the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification exams.
Pros and Cons
- Programs may prepare you for FAA certification exams
- Many programs are offered at community colleges or technical schools, which may have more affordable tuition rates than universities
- Multiple advancement opportunities available for aviation mechanics and pilots
- Due to FAA restrictions, class sizes may be limited and admissions can be competitive
- Airline professionals may work irregular hours
- Many aviation positions have sluggish growth projections
Courses and Requirements
In addition to general education courses, you take classes that teach you about aviation safety, regulations and ethics. Additional coursework varies depending on whether you enroll in a program focused on piloting or maintenance. In a maintenance-focused program, you may learn how airplanes are designed, how they work and how to repair them. Some of your courses may include airframe maintenance, inspections and electrical systems. If you enroll in a pilot-focused program, you may take courses covering aerodynamics, navigation and instrument usage. Flying lessons are are also typically included.
There are a small number of online associate's degree programs in aviation technology. Some programs are fully online, while others provide only a portion of the coursework online. For programs that are based on-campus, you can look for online general education or introductory classes to find some scheduling flexibility.
Stand Out with Your Degree
If you already have at least 30 months of relevant experience, you can earn your certification from the FAA, which is required to work as an aviation maintenance technician. You can earn the combined Airframe and Powerplant certificate (preferred by most employers), or you can earn the airframe and engine mechanics certifications individually. Written, verbal and practical exams are all required for the certifications.
You can also look for aviation organizations within your community to join. These organizations may offer various resources and networking opportunities. Another option is to attend expos, such as the FAA's Aviation Transportation Expo, which takes place each year. You can learn about employment opportunities with aviation companies and what it takes to obtain employment. Staying up-to-date on the latest aviation technical developments can also give you an edge over competitors.
Other Degrees to Consider
If the less-than-average job growth predicted for aviation technicians and mechanics is a factor in your decision-making process, there are other degree and career paths to consider. One option is pursuing a 2-year degree in automotive technology. You can study the maintenance of engines and instrument systems, and the job prospects are better. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that automotive technicians may experience a 17% growth in jobs from 2010-2020.
Bachelor's Degree in Aviation Technology
Some aviation technology bachelor's degree programs focus on aviation maintenance, while other program offer you concentrations, such as piloting and aviation administration. While curricula often varies due to various program emphasis, you can expect to learn about aviation safety, ethics and regulations in all programs. Additionally, you can expect to learn concepts necessary to pass FAA certification exams. These programs typically result in Bachelor of Science degrees.
Pros and Cons
- Some programs include concentration options in order to suit your career goals
- You can have a competitive edge over associate's degree-holding candidates
- Pilots employed at a commercial airline may get to fly recreationally for free
- As an airline pilot, being responsible for passengers and cargo can be a stressful occupation
- Long, irregular work hours are typical for pilots
- To maintain pilot certification, you'll need to pass occasional physicals and competency exams
Courses and Requirements
The exact courses you'll take depends largely on your choice of concentration within the degree program. However, you can expect to take classes with a strong science foundation, no matter your concentration. In an aviation administration program, your coursework may cover topics such as aviation law, airline operations and business principles. In an aviation maintenance program, classes may include aircraft structures and parts and aircraft repairs. If you opt for the piloting option, expect to learn how to operate aircrafts safely as well as about aviation weather.
Online bachelor's degree programs in aviation technology are available, but not commonly found. And if you want to enroll in a professional piloting program, campus-based programs are typically your only option. You will have a better chance finding aviation technology programs that focus on administration or maintenance.
Stand Out with Your Degree
While in school, join any aviation student organizations that your school houses. These organizations are a great way to gain extra experiential training, attend conferences and make connections with like-minded peers. Some schools host student chapters of Alpha Eta Rho, which is a professional aviation fraternity. Additionally, the Alpha Omicron Alpha is an aeronautical honor society for aspiring pilots. You can also seek internship opportunities in order to gain professional experience, or take additional private flying lessons if you're in a piloting program.
One alternative to pursuing a bachelor's degree in aviation technology is studying aeronautics. In an aeronautics degree program, you'll study many of the same concepts you would in an aviation technology program. These include aviation safety and security, airplane maintenance and aviation system design. However, with a bachelor's degree in aeronautics you'll receive a more thorough grounding in engineering concepts. Upon graduating, you'll be ready to pursue graduate study or a career in the fields of aviation or aerospace.