Ireland top of the class in aviation education
This article was originally published in The Irish Times. Written by Sandra O'Connell
Ireland is home to a variety of top-class aviation industry education and training options aimed at aspiring high flyers.
“It’s all about creation of key talent, maintaining competitiveness and fostering legal, tax, accountancy and related support for lessors,” says Caroline Devlin, partner and co-head of aviation at law firm Arthur Cox.
“Ireland understands that its value is as a service industry and that while there is a wealth of existing talent, the pool needs to grow and continue to be nurtured. The courses attract students of all ages and stages, and indeed countries.”
At postgraduate level, University College Dublin’s (UCD) Smurfit Business School offers an MSc in Aviation Finance, designed to feed demand from the country’s world-leading aircraft leasing sector and ancillary professional services suppliers.
It is the only masters in aviation finance degree in Europe and is supported by leading aircraft leasing companies through internships, scholarships and research projects. It is suitable for graduates from a wide variety of disciplines, including business, economics, finance, engineering and science.
The course can be taken one year full-time or two years part-time and more than 90 per cent of its graduates are employed within six months of graduating. It helps that class sizes are kept small, at about 32.
“We see quite a lot of international interest in our programme,” says Thomas Conlon, academic director for the MSc in Aviation Finance at UCD’s Smurfit Graduate Business School.
The strength of Ireland’s aviation education sector is crucial for the sector as a whole, he points out, particularly as competition is growing overseas. “There are plenty of Asian countries which see aviation and aviation finance as an area to develop, so it’s important that we stay ahead of the posse,” he says.
Already, there is particular interest in the programme from students from China and India, as well as from European countries and the US.
“Not all are coming from a business degree background. What we are looking for are candidates that are comfortable with numbers. We do get a lot of students from traditional business or commerce degrees but also engineers – it’s a very comfortable space for them. We also have people with degrees in science and law. We don’t expect students to know the finance side, we will teach them that, but what we do ask is that they be comfortable with numbers.”
The programme is currently in its fourth year and has had 100 graduates to date, many of whom have gone on to secure internships which in turn led to full-time employment. It currently has 37 enrolled on the programme.
“The vast majority of our graduates stay in Ireland, and that includes the overseas students who study with us. It is a great way for them to build their networks in the country that is the centre of aircraft leasing worldwide. For Ireland, it means not only do they pay university fees and living accommodation expenses but they turn into taxpayers too,” says Conlon.
Graduates who don’t go to work for one of the many international corporate aviation firms headquartered in Ireland will typically work in specialist ancillary service providers in areas such as accountancy or law. The aviation consultancy and professional services side of the sector is, in fact, growing even faster than the corporate leasing side, he points out.
From a career perspective, a major part of the industry’s appeal is the fact that it is global. By its nature, where there is a downturn in one part of the world, lessors can move their aircraft to another.
Apart from the often extensive travel opportunities, what also appeals is the fact that aviation finance is one of the relatively few sectors of Ireland’s large international financial services sector that is not focused on back-office support roles. “You can have a front-office role, at the coal face, making the decisions that matter,” Conlon says.
Dublin City University (DCU) offers a BSc in Aviation Management, the first university degree in Ireland to combine management studies with the option to train as a commercial pilot. Alternatively, its students can opt to undertake air traffic controller training
DCU also offers an MSc in Management (Aviation Leadership), a specialist postgraduate programme designed to provide participants with knowledge in all key aviation sectors as well as strategic management.
Very many of its graduates go into aircraft leasing, while others work for airlines or airports, including the graduate programmes run by airport authorities.
This masters programme typically attracts middle managers already working in the aviation sector, according to Dr Marina Efthymiou, assistant professor in aviation management.
Carlow Institute of Technology is another well-established provider of training and education in the sector, particularly aerospace engineering– it has its own hangar.
Its Bachelor of Business degree in Aviation Management includes industry specific skills such as team resource and crew resource management, EU aviation policy, incident command and risk management, as well as traditional business skills such as management and marketing.
Because the programme recognises prior learning, including on-the-job training, it is also of particular interest to those currently working in the sector. Previous years have typically included pilots, maintenance personnel, administrators and dispatchers.
Indeed, the fact that it is a part-time programme facilitates those already in the workplace, particularly as it uses a blended learning format comprising both classroom and online teaching. Despite its Carlow IT genesis, all lectures are held in a Dublin city location.
Just over a year ago, Cork Institute of Technology launched at BA degree programme in International Business with Aviation Studies.
This two-year programme is also the first of its kind in Europe, being specifically aimed at those who have been trained as pilots in the aviation industry. It is delivered online and builds upon their existing training, to combine it with business knowledge and skills. It was developed to address the challenges pilots face in finding a training programme that fits in with their often erratic work schedules.
There are also a number of specialist flight training providers, such as Simtech, which provides additional training for already qualified pilots, and works mainly with commercial cadets. It currently has five simulators and plans to expand its ‘fleet’ significantly over the next two years.
For anyone considering a career in aviation, it’s a great first port of call. A taster session manning the controls of a simulated jetliner costs just €150.