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Aviation courses as diverse as holiday destinations

From management with pilot studies to aviation finance - the range is vast

With several universities and colleges offering top-flight business-focused aviation courses – and 42 per cent of the global aviation fleet leased through an industry that is largely based in Ireland – what can prospective students expect to learn, and where?

Aviation courses are as diverse as holiday destinations. Some, such as those at Dublin City University’s aviation management or aviation management with pilot studies, or MTU’s international business with aviation studies (on the university’s Cork campus) are full-time degrees leading to a level eight undergraduate qualification.

Others, notably DCU’s MSc in management (aviation leadership) and University College Dublin’s MSc in aviation finance – lead to a level nine postgraduate qualification.

On top of this, there are several shorter courses focused on aviation finance and management, including a level nine aviation leasing and finance course at the University of Limerick, and level eight aviation business course at MTU or DBS.


Dr Marina Efthymiou is programme chair for the masters in aviation leadership at DCU, while Dr Cathal Guiomard is programme chair for the BSc in aviation management at the same university. Both academics say that DCU’s courses are particularly focused on aviation management, with a mix of business subjects and aviation-focused modules.

“The business school was approached by the airlines and industry representatives who were looking for pilots with an academic degree and an understanding of the management side,” says Efthymiou. “On a four-year undergraduate degree, our students decide in the final year whether to focus on management or piloting.”

To become a pilot, students spend three years at DCU and then move to a pilot school, such as the National Flight Centre pilot academy at Weston Airport, or at an EU training facility, to specialise.

“The undergraduate aviation management degree is two-thirds standard business courses including accountancy, economics and law,and one-third aviation courses including airline management, airport operations, flying theory, fleet planning and aviation safety,” says Guiomard.

“Our graduates have [roles including] trainee managers with airlines in Ireland, in airports, air-traffic control, regulatory and policy bodies, consultancy firms that advise aviation companies, and aircraft finance and leasing. Because the degree is a business qualification, students have been prepared for managerial posts across the economy.”

Despite the impact of the pandemic on aviation, Guiomard points to more CAO applications to the DCU course than ever before.

Many of those on the DCU postgraduate course have worked as pilots or air-traffic controllers, and DCU recognises this as evidence of prior learning even if they do not have an undergraduate primary degree. Efthymiou says that many pilots take on the degree because they’re in search of a new challenge and change of direction, and online and blended learning is helping them to balance the demands of work and education.

‘More innovative’

“We are constantly making the courses more innovative,” says Efthymiou. “In the postgraduate course, students look at regulation and policy, leadership and how to manage an airline and an airport. We have an advisory board comprising the Irish Aviation Authority, Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Dublin and Shannon airports, and the aim is to get advice from them on the skills that they need their managers to have.”

While innovation must be the fuel of the aviation industry if it is to survive, it has two main challenges to face: gender balance and sustainability.

“Not enough females are doing the course,” says Efthymiou. “Part of the issue is confidence and part of it is due to lack of targeted opportunities. We’re always keen to attract more diversity on to the course.

DCU business school is hosting an online event focused on diversity and inclusion in the Irish aviation industry which will look at how to attract more diversity into the industry and what can build a more inclusive work environment (google search “diversity and inclusion aviation DCU” for more information).

Changing the industry to make it more attractive to women can be done with the right will, and is less of a challenge than tackling the sustainability problem.

DCU’s course has a particular focus on sustainable and green aviation, looking at short-term solutions like carbon capture, medium-term solutions like airplane design and longer-term solutions like carbon-neutral flights.

Cutting edge

“Managers need to have an understanding of green innovations in industry, which is a very complex topic,” says Efthymiou.

Indeed, the cutting edge of environmental and business innovation is in aviation.

At UCD, Dr Xuanyu Yue is a PhD graduate in aviation finance, and her research has shown ways in which the industry may be able to balance increased demand with stricter environmental policies.

“Addressing climate change is transdisciplinary and requires different disciplines to work together,” she says. “My research provides insights for airlines as to whether leasing is a better option than purchasing, and what areas individual airlines should target to control emissions.”

The recipient of Science Foundation Ireland’s Valuation and Risk (VAR) research scholarship, Yue says she focused on aviation because it cannot yet be substituted by alternative transport modes and contributes heavily to emissions. And her work, along with published and peer-reviewed articles by graduates of the DCU course, indicates that some of the most innovative and cutting-edge science and business research is taking off on aviation courses.