Okay, we’ve figured out how to fly. Now what? Modern aviation is about making a safer and more pleasant flying experience for not only the passengers but also the crew and the pilots. Aviation is an interdisciplinary field encompassing engineering and electronics but also meteorology as well as human psychology and physiology. Moreover, aviation applies to a broad range of professions that extends beyond the pilots and mechanics to airline managers, government officials, safety inspectors, and accident investigators. Despite the increasing technical complexity of aircraft, aviation is ultimately not about planes but about people.
The number of individuals working to ensure a safe and on-time flight always exceed the number of passengers on board, and aviation education is becoming more focused on the human factors involved in flight. Therefore, schools are creating more comprehensive degree programs that reflect the modern work world of aviation. At the college level, ‘aviation’ programs usually means flight school. Programs that focus on areas of aviation not directly relating to learning to fly a plane might be called ‘aeronautics’ or ‘aerospace’ programs. ‘Aeronautics’ typically refers only to aircraft, ‘aerospace’ can refer to either aircraft or spacecraft, and ‘astronautics’ is exclusively spacecraft. Because of this naming system, it is important to fully research a program to find if your college program is going to offer you the skills you need for your chosen career in flight.
Aeronautics education typically falls into two broad categories: airport/airline management and aviation safety. Undergraduate programs usually cover both aspects. However, after earning your bachelor’s degree and working in the field, you will likely want to pursue a graduate degree in order to advance in your career. Graduate programs usually offer a concentration in management or safety. Because the aviation industry is unique in the level of government oversight into the day-to-day operations of an airline, earning a graduate degree can be an excellent way to place all aspects of aviation into context and improve your level of expertise.
Perhaps more than any other field, aeronautics innovation places equal emphasis on technology and the human factor. It can be challenging to find the best aeronautics programs as they are typically lumped in with aerospace and astronautics programs, and it is common for schools to house their aeronautics programs within their science or engineering schools. Embry-Riddle is unique in that the entire university is focused on aerospace. If you are looking for an aeronautics program that offers a better balanced education, Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) has a dedicated School of Aeronautics within a larger university setting. FIT offers both master’s degrees as well as a rigorous and innovative PhD program. Across programs, aeronautics and aerospace education is working harder to meet the changing needs of aviation professionals.