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Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Aviation

Oct 20, 2021

Online Aviation Degree Overview

There are many different colleges that offer aviation programs online. These degree programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as some graduate-level certificate programs. Students in these programs are prepared to work in a wide range of careers within the field of aviation. Many programs provide hands-on learning and/or culminating experiences to help students apply what they have learned to real-world scenarios. Compare and contrast some available online aviation programs below.

Online Associate Degrees in Aviation

At the associate level, online programs in aviation are scarce, but students can pursue online degree programs in areas like aviation management, aviation business administration, or a related area, like aeronautics. These degree programs may be available as Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degrees and typically require around 60 credits of coursework. Some of these programs may give students credit toward their degree if they hold aviation-related licenses or certifications in positions as pilots, mechanics, and more. Students in these programs usually take some general education courses, core courses, and electives, many of which can be easily transferred to a 4-year school or program for continued study in the field.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Aviation

Online bachelor's degree programs in aviation may be most commonly available in aviation management, but online programs are also available in areas like aviation studies and aeronautics. These programs may award a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degree and usually require students to take around 120 credits of coursework. Depending on the program, students may be able to participate in co-ops and/or internship experiences for hands-on learning. Some programs may also award credit to students with aviation-related experiences. Students may be required to complete the program with a final capstone project where they apply what they have learned throughout the program and/or may be able to choose from additional concentration areas to focus their studies.

Online Master's Degrees in Aviation

Master's students can pursue online degree programs in areas like aviation, aeronautics, and aviation and aerospace management. Graduates are typically awarded a Master of Science (MS) degree and usually have completed around 30 credits of coursework. Most of these programs can be completed in 1 to 3 years, but some may give students up to 5 years to finish. Depending on the program, students may be able to choose from additional specialization areas to focus their studies. These programs do not usually require a thesis, and some programs may offer live, synchronous courses so students still get face-to-face interaction with faculty members.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Aviation

Students can pursue a Doctor of Aviation (AvD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Aviation degree in online or hybrid formats. Hybrid programs may require some in-person residencies, and students may be able to finish some of these doctoral programs in as little as 3 years. Most doctoral programs require students to complete a PhD thesis or dissertation that serves as an intensive research project. Students may need to take at least 60 credits of coursework, which is usually customizable to align with students' interests and/or career goals. These programs are generally designed for professionals in the field looking to advance their careers and/or those wishing to move into leadership- and research-based roles.

Online Certificates in Aviation

Online certificate programs are available in areas like aviation safety, aviation safety management, and aviation maintenance technology. These programs are most common at the graduate level, and some certificates, like the Aviation Maintenance Technology Part 65 certificate program, is designed to prepare students for professional certification in the field. Students may need to complete between 12 to 18 credits of coursework, and some programs may allow students to count credits from the certificate toward a master's degree in the field. Online certificates in aviation may take between 1 and 3 years to complete, based on a student's schedule.

Aviation Specializations/Concentrations

There are a few online bachelor's degree programs in aviation that offer additional areas of concentration to help students narrow the focus of their studies and be better prepared for specific careers of interest within the field. Degree programs in aviation studies and/or aviation/aeronautics may be more likely to offer concentration areas, and students are usually required to take at least a handful of courses within their chosen concentration. While some graduate-level programs in aviation may also offer different specializations, aviation majors at the bachelor's level may be able to choose a concentration from areas like:

  • Aviation safety
  • Avionics
  • Air traffic control
  • Dispatcher
  • Flight operations
  • Security
  • Aviation operations management
  • Aviation maintenance management

Curriculum/Coursework for an Aviation Degree

There are some free online aviation courses available for students wishing to explore the field, but the coursework required of an online bachelor's program in the field will provide students with a more in-depth look at the subject. These bachelor's programs require some general education courses, core aviation courses, electives, and/or courses in an additional concentration area. Some programs may break the core courses into lower- and upper-division courses, and it is fairly common for these programs to conclude with some kind of capstone experience. Some programs may also give students the chance to participate in hands-on learning experiences through internships and/or co-op experiences. Students interested in becoming a pilot may find a program that not only focuses on the business side of aviation but also provides flight training electives that meet the minimum requirements for Restricted Airline Transport Pilot (RATP) certification with coursework and 1,250 hours of flight time. Coursework for these online bachelor's programs may include subjects in:

  • Introduction to aviation
  • Aviation safety
  • Aviation leadership
  • Aviation law
  • Airline management
  • Aviation labor relations
  • Ethics
  • History of aviation

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Aviation?

Usually, it takes 3.5 to 4 years for students to complete an online bachelor's degree in aviation. However, there are several ways for students to accelerate their pathway to graduation. For example, there are several online bachelor's programs in aviation that offer accelerated courses and/or formats to help students finish faster. One of the fastest ways to finish a bachelor's degree is to first earn an associate degree. This can allow students to finish their bachelor's degree in as little as 2 years. There are also some programs that provide additional credits to students for any professional certification they have in the field of aviation and/or other prior work and learning experiences to help students graduate faster.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Aviation Degrees

Although some master's degree programs in aviation may have aviation-related accreditation from groups like the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI), most online bachelor's degree programs in aviation only hold regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is still an indicator of a quality education but applies to the entire institution and not just individual programs. Regional accreditation may come from organizations like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) or the Higher Learning Commission and indicates to students that degree programs at all levels at the school have met academic standards for quality. Students may prefer to attend an accredited institution for easy transferability of credits, qualification for financial aid, and/or to demonstrate proficiency to potential employers.

Aviation Licensure & Certification

Aviation licensure and certification requirements vary greatly by position. Pilots may have the most extensive requirements for licensure that also vary by the kind of flying they do. However, all pilots must hold a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)- administered commercial pilot's license. Usually, aspiring pilots begin with a student pilot certificate and may work their way up through multiple certifications to the airline transport pilot (ATP) certification required for pilots of commercial airliners. Each certification has its own education and flight hour requirements, and typically requires students to pass a written, practical, and physical exam. Commercial pilot licenses, for example, require students to be 18 years old or older, meet flight time requirements, and pass a medical exam, written exam, and practical flight exam. In order to fly more than 50 miles from their starting point, these pilots also need to hold an instrument rating.

Other aviation-related positions may also have various licensure requirements. Air traffic controllers, for instance, need to meet the qualifications set in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 65 or have an Air Traffic Control Tower Operator Certificate. These professionals also need to meet skills requirements by passing the Air Traffic Controller Specialists Skills Assessment Battery (ATSA), be 18 years of age or older, and speak English.

Aviation Career Information

Graduates with a bachelor's degree in aviation can pursue diverse positions within the field. The job duties and education requirements for specific positions may vary. For example, the job description for an aviation safety inspector is different than the job description for an aviation data analyst. The training requirements for a flight attendant are also much different than that of a commercial pilot. Students may also advance their careers, such as becoming an aviation manager with further experience and/or education. A few examples of possible careers for graduates of bachelor's programs in aviation include:

  • Aviation operations coordinator
  • Pilot
  • Air traffic controller
  • Aviation safety specialist
  • Air transport manager
  • Airline operations manager
  • Aircraft maintenance scheduler
  • Aircraft manufacturing and sales manager

How to Become an Airline or Commercial Pilot

Becoming an aircraft pilot may vary slightly based on what type of pilot you wish to become. In general, students may become commercial pilots first and only need a high school diploma. Some may go on to become airline pilots, who typically need more flying experience and must hold a bachelor's degree. These professionals have to undergo extensive training and log many hours of flight time before meeting qualifications for certification or licensure at different levels. Training is also usually required to operate specific kinds of aircraft. On-the-job training for pilots must meet Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).

Pilots are primarily responsible for ensuring that their aircraft and passengers arrive at a destination safely. This requires them to check the condition of the aircraft, operate the aircraft during the flight, monitor fuel levels, navigate the direction of flight, and adjust to any changing conditions. As of 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that airline and commercial pilots made a median annual salary of $121,430. These professionals had a job outlook of 5% from 2019 to 2029, per the BLS.

How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

Students can become air traffic controllers in several different ways, including holding a bachelor's degree. Other options include completing an Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program that is approved by the FAA, having 3 years of work experience, or having a combination of work experience and education. They must also undergo background and medical checks, a training course at the FAA Academy, pass a biographical assessment, and pass the ATSA. These professionals must be U.S. citizen and be hired before their 31st birthday. After being hired, they must undergo long-term on-the-job training.

Air traffic controllers ensure that aircraft maintain a safe distance between other aircraft at all times. This involves coordinating aircraft movements, communicating with pilots, making sure pilots are updated on weather conditions and other important information, and responding to emergency situations as needed. According to the BLS, air traffic controllers made a median annual salary of $122,990, as of 2019. These professionals had a job outlook of 1% from 2019 to 2029.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Aviation Degrees

Like other programs, bachelor's programs in aviation can be expensive, but students have several financial aid opportunities available to them to help pay for school. Many schools and/or scholarships require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid first to see any federal loans or grants that may be available to them. Additional scholarships can help cover costs and are widely available at different levels, such as local, national, or international, and have diverse requirements for consideration.

Some scholarships are available in specific subject areas, including aviation. Aviation students can choose from a wide range of scholarship opportunities from postsecondary institutions and/or aviation-related organizations. Some of these scholarships may be focused on specific subsets of aviation students, such as aviation flight students or aviation management students. A few examples of aviation scholarships include:

  • Dr. David A NewMyer Scholarship- This scholarship is named after a retired aviation faculty member at Southern Illinois University. It is open to students in the aviation flight or aviation management program who also participate in aviation organizations.
  • Patricia Eidson Memorial Scholarship- This award is given to a female at Eastern Kentucky University striving to become a professional pilot. Candidates must have completed at least 60 credit hours, hold a private pilot's license, and meet a GPA requirement.
  • The David W. Graham Scholarship- This $2,000 award is provided by the Aero Club of New England and is available to aviation management students.

How to Choose an Aviation School and Program

Choosing an aviation school and program may come down to a student's ultimate career goals. Students may need to choose between an aviation flight, aviation management, or general aviation studies program. Some of these programs may offer additional areas of concentration that students need to consider and select one that may help best prepare them for their desired career. Hands-on experience is also important in the field, especially for those wanting to become a pilot, so students may search for a program that provides internship experiences and/or other real-world applications and training through capstone experiences. Students who plan to major in the field may also check the availability of scholarships at the institution of interest to help pay for school.

Professional Organizations in Aviation

In addition to the FAA, which provides training, regulations, and certifications in the field of aviation, there are also a number of professional organizations that offer membership and aim to further develop the careers of those in aviation. These organizations may be designed for a specific demographic, geographical location, subfield within aviation, and more. A few examples of professional organizations in aviation and some of the resources they have to offer include:

  • Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association- The AOPA has several advocacy initiatives, provides training and safety opportunities, and offers various forms of community for aviation professionals, including different forums and flying clubs. The group's website also has a range of information on travel, news in the field, and other pilot resources, including a job board.
  • The Ninety-Nines- This group is designed specifically for women pilots and works to advance aviation with women through scholarships and education. The organization has conferences, webinars, a career center, and more to help women pilots succeed.
  • Aero Club of New England- The ACONE is one of the oldest aero clubs in the country and focuses on providing scholarships to aviation students and providing safety seminars. The group also hosts a number of events and awards for members.
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