Thinking about a collegiate aviation program? Consider this…

Despite an industry that has been plagued by bankruptcies, mergers and furloughs, the airline industry is in the midst of the biggest surge in pilot hiring in history. The future is bright and no matter your background, there is a path forward in professional aviation.

Boeing predicts that the world demand for professional pilots at more than 600,000 over the next 20 years. The Asia Pacific region will lead the worldwide demand for pilots followed by North America. For perspective, the entire US pilot population is only about 600,000.

Additionally, job opportunities will result from the need to replace workers transferring to other occupations or leaving the labor force which will include the baby-boomers reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65.  The demand for pilots is so great the industry is already facing a shortage, sparking fierce competition among airlines across the globe vying for qualified candidates to fill the flight decks.

We’ve seen starting pay at the regional airline level rise sharply to nearly $60,000 annually at most regional air carriers. A stark contrast to the poverty wages of just 10 years ago. In the airline industry, where seniority is supreme and determines everything from pay to aircraft assignment to crew base and ultimately quality of life, the opportunity exists to land destination jobs much earlier in you career than has ever been possible.

Your first step toward an aviation career is to prepare academically.  Outline your goals and mission by determining what values, benefits and rewards are important to you.  And be diligent in your research to determine the training, education and skill requirements for aviation so that you can better understand the required commitment.  Finally, you’ll need to establish priorities to move you closer to your goals and also master the art of effective time management to increase your likelihood of success.

To be competitive in professional aviation, a baccalaureate (four-year) degree is still a necessity, but your options for attaining this level of higher education are numerous.  While an aviation-specific course of study is not a requirement, a number of institutions offer Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degree options in professional aeronautics.  The Bachelor of Science will consist of more general education requirements versus the BAS.

There are also a number of institutions offering Associate level (two-year) programs in aviation – typically an Associate of Applied Science degree that will serve as a stand-alone credential for a career in professional aviation.  The Associate level programs will provide an opportunity to combine technical, aviation training with an additional course of study (engineering, business, etc.) demonstrating a multi-dimensional educational background and unique skill set to potential employers.

In most degree programs, your FAA certifications up through Commercial pilot and possibly beyond, will be included.  If you currently possess a four-year college degree, our advice would be to focus on pursuing your Commercial pilot certificate as quickly as possible. Many stand-alone pilot training academies offer career training in an accelerated format. Competitive financing options are sure to follow.

Whether you choose a collegiate aviation program or non-aviation degree, a Bachelor’s degree demonstrates an advanced level of knowledge, understanding and an ability to learn.  It also demonstrates success, motivation and self-discipline – all valuable qualities for future professional aviators.

Regardless of the path you choose, time is of the essence. Don’t delay as each year of inaction could literally be costing hundreds of thousands in wages and benefits.

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It was his first airplane trip at age seven that made Eric decide to become a pilot. "While boarding the airplane, a flight attendant noticed my interest in the flight deck and urged me to go talk to the pilot. I give a lot of credit to that pilot for my career choice." He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and went on to an airline career. Eric now heads Sporty’s flight school and directs the University of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot Training Program. In addition, Eric serves as a Captain in Sporty’s corporate flight department.