Can You Get an Aviation Degree Online?
When most people think of aviation degrees, they picture a classroom of hopeful students learning the basics of flight in a brick-and-mortar school. However, it's highly possible (and actually quite common) to earn an aviation degree online since most of the required coursework for this program can be completed on a virtual basis. From there, students who want to work as pilots can move on to complete their hands-on flight training, and those who want to work in aviation management or other related fields can begin their search for job opportunities.
But, what degree is best for aviation? Generally speaking, a bachelor of aviation will help students move toward the future career they want in this dynamic and exciting field.
That said, it's crucial for students to choose a program from top aviation colleges that are fully accredited. This will ensure the online aviation degree is respected by hiring managers and the airlines themselves and that the school is held to the highest academic standards possible.
How Long Does It Take To Get an Aviation Degree?
How long it takes to earn an online aviation degree depends on where the student is at in the process. New students who are at the beginning of their educational journey in aviation may be able to complete a bachelor's degree program in as little as 3.5 years. However, those who have experience as a pilot may be able to transfer credit and complete their program in as little as 2.5 years.
Some schools, including the School of Aeronautics at Liberty University, even offer high school dual enrollment to help aviation students finish their degree programs faster. This option lets students begin taking their courses online while they finish their high school diploma, after which they can progress straight into flight training after graduating from high school.
Is an Aviation Degree Hard?
If you have spent much time researching aviation degrees, you have almost certainly learned about the high level of burnout in this field. Many people wonder why so many student pilots quit and why many students begin degrees in aviation only to switch to another field entirely before finishing their program.
Ultimately, earning a bachelor's degree in aviation is similar to earning a degree in any other field. The coursework and instruction may be more difficult for some students than others, and a certain percentage of participants will decide they want to do something different in their careers after they begin.
That said, some of the most common reasons student pilots quit include medical reasons and a lack of time and motivation. Other times, the financial aspect of funding an online aviation degree and further training becomes a problem.
To make sure a bachelor's degree in aviation is a good fit, students should research aviation degrees and all they entail for several months before they enroll. It can also help students to seek out the full cost of pursuing this degree as well as other experiential learning that may be required.
Where online aviation degrees can be incredibly affordable on their own, students who want to become a pilot will need complete hands-on flight training as well.
Are Aerospace and Aviation the Same?
Students looking into aviation degrees often stumble into degrees in aerospace, especially since some of the potential career paths overlap. For example, degrees in both aviation and aerospace can lead to careers in aerospace technology management or aviation management. However, these industries are not exactly one and the same. In fact, the Encyclopedia of Britannica offers notably different definitions for each industry:
For example, the aerospace industry is defined as an "assemblage of manufacturing concerns that deal with vehicular flight within and beyond Earth's atmosphere." Further, the word "aerospace" itself is derived from two related words — aeronautics and spaceflight.
Meanwhile, aviation is "the development and operation of heavier-than-air aircraft." As such, this industry is built around maintaining and operating aircraft that fly within the Earth's atmosphere.
Common Courses for an Aviation Student
Online aviation degrees help students learn the basics of how various forms of aircraft operate as well as their required maintenance and care. Faculty may also introduce students to the business side of the industry and how related industries assist in aviation as a whole.
Some of the most common core courses found within online aviation degree programs include the following:
This course introduces students to the functions and importance of air traffic control. Topics covered include the basic operations of an air traffic control tower, including the techniques and terminology used by pilots and ground crew. Coursework may also cover more advanced topics within air traffic control, such as best practices for handling communications breakdowns and bad weather. Simulated air traffic control situations may also be introduced as part of this program.
This course provides an overview of the basic operations of airlines as well as the management-level duties they require. Topics covered include regulation, financing, marketing, customer service, profitability, and labor relations within the airline industry. Students learn the business side of this industry and how airlines turn a profit while striving to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction.
This course covers the various security issues encountered within the airline industry, including those related to aircraft and passengers who fly. Topics covered include, but are not limited to, profiling, hijacking, bomb threats, and passenger screening issues. Students also study the role of the Department of Homeland Security as well as that of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Aviation students who take this course will gain an in-depth understanding of all the systems that keep aircraft in operation. This includes aircraft propeller systems, landing gear, electrical systems, flight control systems, hydraulics, and all other systems that help planes glide safely through the air.
Students who take this course study the physiological and psychological factors that come into play when pilots operate an aircraft. They learn about all the issues that can go wrong in this realm as well, from human error to pilot fatigue. Prospective pilots also learn how the human body can perform at its best as well as how various physiological and psychological factors lead to flight failures.
What Are the Three Types of Aviation?
According to the National Aviation Academy, there are three main sectors of aviation worth mentioning. These sectors directly correlate with the industries one can enter after completing online aviation degrees.
Commercial aviation is the industry consumers and everyday people are most familiar with. This industry includes the commercial airlines most people use to travel for work or leisure, including major players like American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. That said, cargo transportation is also included under the umbrella of commercial aviation.
General aviation is a sector of this industry that operates on a schedule the commercial aviation industry cannot offer. The National Aviation Academy notes that flights in this sector are much more flexible and on-demand than those from major carrier networks. Examples of general aviation industry offerings include emergency medical evacuations, flights for agricultural purposes, business and pleasure flights operated by private pilots, and flights operated by various law enforcement agencies.
Military aviation is, not surprisingly, the industry of aviation that revolves around military operations. This industry focuses on facilitating aerial warfare, as well as using aircraft to protect government facilities and society at large. Military flights include those related to real missions as well as the training of military pilots and related personnel.
What Is the Difference Between the Airline Industry and the Aviation Industry?
At this point, you're probably also wondering about the difference between the airline industry and the aviation industry, as well as the businesses that operate within each. Generally speaking, the airline industry is exactly what you would expect. This industry includes the major airlines and all the services they offer, including commercial flights and cargo transportation. In contrast, the aviation industry includes all businesses that operate aircraft. As a result, the airline industry is actually part of the broader aviation industry, which is what students study in this degree program.
What Can I Do With an Aviation Degree?
Before you dive into the world of college entrance exams and learn how to get student loans to pay for school, you should have a basic understanding of where this degree program leads.
Here are a few potential careers one can pursue with a bachelor of aviation, but it's important to note that a bachelor's degree is not required for these professions:
Annual Median Salary: $65,550
Job Growth Rate: 6%
Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians use their expertise of aircraft to keep them in top condition. Not only do they diagnose and repair various issues that arise with aircraft over time, but they perform regular maintenance and keep records of their work. While these professionals typically begin their careers after completing their training at a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved aviation maintenance technician school, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that a bachelor's degree in related fields — such as aviation, transportation, or engineering — can be helpful in this field.
Annual Median Salary: $134,630
Job Growth Rate: 6%
Airline and commercial pilots operate aircraft for commercial operations, which include major airlines as well as cargo transportation businesses. These professionals are charged with checking the condition of the aircraft before every flight as well as safely transporting people, cargo, or both to the next destination. They also prepare and submit flight plans to traffic control before they operate an aircraft.
Annual Median Salary: $129,750
Job Growth Rate: 1%
Air traffic controllers help manage air traffic from central control towers surrounding various airports. They monitor and direct the movement of aircraft, and they control ground traffic at airports in order to keep everything running as smoothly as possible. They also issue landing instructions to pilots in the air, and they often inform pilots and other aviation personnel about weather issues and other problems that arise. While air traffic controllers can begin their careers by completing a program at an (FAA)-approved Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program, some get started with a bachelor's degree in transportation, aviation, or another related industry.
Is It Worth Getting a Degree in Aviation?
Careers in aviation tend to be high paying. We already mentioned how commercial pilots earned a median annual salary of $99,640, as of May 2021. However, the BLS reports that the top 10% of pilots earned more than twice as much — $205,940 — the same year.
Students can complete the bulk of their coursework online. The top aviation colleges let students complete the majority of their courses online and on their own time. At many schools, including at the University of North Dakota, in-person and online aviation students take the exact same courses.
Commercial pilots experience high levels of job satisfaction. According to CareerExplorer, commercial pilots report a very high level of job satisfaction (3.8 out of 5 stars) overall. This puts commercial pilots among the top 17% of jobs in terms of overall happiness and contentment.
Flight school can be expensive. Commercial pilots need to earn aviation degrees and complete flight training. While online degrees tend to be affordable, flight training costs can vary widely.
Salaries for commercial pilots start out relatively low. While the highest paid pilots bring in a nice income every year, new commercial pilot salaries are on the low end. In fact, the BLS reports that the bottom 10% of commercial pilots earned just $50,080, as of May 2021.
Aviation degrees and flight training may not transfer to many other industries. Unlike other degrees in fields like business and communications, aviation degrees are highly specific. This may make it more difficult for graduates to move into another field later on.
Online aviation courses can help students learn more about this unique and in-demand industry, which is built entirely around the miracle of flight. In the meantime, this degree option can lay the groundwork for a career as a commercial pilot or an air traffic controller, or even a management career in the aviation industry.
That said, students considering this field should spend some time researching online degrees and courses in aviation as well as other industries. They should also explore potential financial aid opportunities, including scholarships and grants that can make becoming a pilot a lot less expensive.