Aviation Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Training Info

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What will you learn in an aviation graduate degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers.
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Studying Aviation: Degrees at a Glance

Graduate-level degrees in aviation are for people who are already working or who have experience in the field. If you're a pilot, air traffic controller, or aircraft mechanic, a master's or PhD in aviation might qualify you for a job position with higher pay and more responsibility.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), one of the bleakest job outlooks for the field of aviation is the projected 3% decline in jobs for air traffic controllers. This percentage represents a moderate decline for the years 2010 through 2020. Reasons for the decline include a limited budget and an increasing reliance on highly efficient satellite systems. Higher outlooks include jobs as airline and commercial pilots, which are growing by 11%. This is about as fast as the average growth for all jobs in the U.S.

Master's PhD
Who Is This Degree For? Aviation workers wanting to advance their career and gain more knowledge about the field Individuals already working in aviation and who want to gain more knowledge, advance their careers, and contribute their research to the field
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) Note: the following jobs do not require a master's or PhD for entry-level, but higher salary can be expected with advanced education. - Air traffic controllers ($114,000)*
- Airline and commercial pilots ($106,000)*
- Flight engineers ($106,000)*
- Aircraft mechanics and service technicians ($55,000)*
Same as master's with possibility of higher salary
- Air traffic controllers ($114,000)*
- Airline and commercial pilots ($106,000)*
- Flight engineers ($106,000)*
- Aircraft mechanics and service technicians ($55,000)*
Time to Completion As little as four semesters full-time Three years to 90 credits full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Publication and thesis defense Residency and thesis
Prerequisites - Proof of high school education
- SAT or ACT scores
- Bachelor's degree in aviation field or other
- GRE or GMAT exam scores
- Letters of recommendation
-Bachelor's or master's degree in aviation (some programs allow experience in the aviation field to substitute for aviation degree)
- GRE scores
- letters of recommendation
- statement of goals
- resume
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Aviation

When considering a master's degree in aviation, look at your current career and determine whether it might benefit from additional knowledge about aviation or aerospace. If you are a pilot or air traffic controller, a master's degree might give you the knowledge and credentials to help you gain a different position in your field. This new position might entail more responsibility and higher salary. Other aviation careers that might benefit from a master's degree include aerospace engineer, airfield operations specialist, and flight dispatcher.

Pros and Cons


  • You might earn the knowledge needed for a higher position in your career
  • Some programs allow applicants to substitute experience for a bachelor's degree in the aviation field
  • Programs are usually flexible so working professionals can study around their existing schedules


  • A promotion in your field is not guaranteed after earning a master's degree
  • Some programs are very competitive
  • Few schools offer this degree

Common Courses and Requirements

Degree requirements vary with each program. For example, if your degree leads to a Master of Business Administration in Aviation, you might have a lot of business classes. Some master's degree programs require a thesis and have very detailed steps on how to successfully complete your program. Steps may involve selecting faculty you to work with and developing a plan and timeline for coursework and thesis work. Coursework is usually very specific to the aviation industry.

Some examples of courses include these:

  • Accounting and finance
  • Business policy
  • Economics
  • Management and marketing

Online Degree Options

Because working professionals are likely to be interested in this degree, many programs are flexible, and some offer master's degrees in aviation that can be completed entirely online. These online programs may include courses in subjects like airport systems and operations, aerospace technology, and safety management.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Some master's degree programs allow you to choose an elective so you can focus your degree in one certain area. If you know you want to direct your career towards airport or airline management, you may want to choose a program that has these specializations available to you.

Technology is an important aspect of staying ahead in your career. Choosing a master's degree program that includes technology courses might be a good way to keep up with relevant technology and become more qualified for a better job position than someone with less technological knowledge.

PhD in Aviation

A Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation is similar to a master's degree in the sense that it is also geared towards those who already work in the field of aviation. If you are an aviation professional with at least a bachelor's or master's degree, have a high desire to learn more about the field of aviation and want to contribute to it by conducting original thesis research, then a PhD might be the degree that's best for you.

Pros and Cons


  • Many programs are flexible so you can incorporate study into your existing work schedule
  • You might be able to apply a certain number of credits from your master's degree to your PhD
  • Your thesis research might advance the field of aviation


  • Some programs are extremely competitive
  • You might have to follow very strict guidelines during the thesis process
  • A PhD typically takes a longer amount of time to complete than a master's degree

Courses and Requirements

PhD programs usually consist of coursework, seminars, and a thesis. A residency might be a component of your program and will teach you relevant aviation issues, prepare you for your dissertation or thesis, and help you make connections with your faculty. These connections will be valuable to you when you decide what the subject of your research will be.

Coursework might include the following:

  • Data analysis and research methods
  • Economics
  • Legal issues in aviation
  • Safety management

Online Degree Options

PhD programs in aviation cater to working professionals, so online PhD programs do exist and provide a very thorough education. If your online degree program includes a residency requirement, you might have to be on campus to complete the residencies. The importance in this is that you will interact with faculty members who might eventually be the ones helping you with your thesis.

Stand Out With This Degree

Technology plays an important role in aviation, from electronics and computers in an aircraft cockpit to the computer systems in an air traffic control tower. Learning about how technology is currently used in your field might assist you in gaining a certain job position. You may learn about technology through coursework. If possible with the faculty you work with, you may also decide to make technology the focus of your thesis and learn through this route.