As more college programs introduce business aviation as a major concentration of study, educators say it’s helping to widen the workforce pipeline in the sector by raising awareness.
Alan Stolzer, Ph.D., dean of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s College of Aviation in Daytona Beach, FL, said the shift is being driven by aviation’s technological evolution.
“There are technologies on the horizon that will dramatically change the industry in the years ahead, such as artificial intelligence, unmanned systems and advanced air mobility,” Stolzer said. “Business aviation has always been at the forefront of adopting new technologies.”
“From my perspective as an A&P instructor, I see significant opportunities for our students in business aviation. A large percentage of our graduates are entering corporate aviation.”
Greg Klein Lake Area Technical College
Jobs are another driver, according to Greg Klein, an instructor at Lake Area Technical College in Watertown, SD. “From my perspective as an A&P instructor, I see significant opportunities for our students in business aviation,” Klein said. “A large percentage of our graduates are entering corporate aviation.”
Summit Aviation President Ben Walton offered a real-world perspective. Based in Belgrade, MT, Summit, which began two decades ago, now boasts ownership and management of 18 flight school aircraft, one of the largest fleets of Embraer Phenom 300 and Praetor aircraft, a substantial managed fleet and a staff of more than 100 highly qualified individuals, including charter and business aviation pilots, flight instructors, aircraft sales professionals and other industry specialists.
“Business aviation has seen significant growth recently,” Walton said, “with many new customers entering the market. These customers who had not previously used business aviation have turned to it due to the pandemic, and they are staying.”
Business Aviation vs. Airlines
Another factor surrounds the differences between career opportunities in business aviation and airlines.
“Airlines are hiring pilots and maintenance technicians at an unprecedented rate due to retirements, the effects of COVID and industry growth,” Stolzer said. On the other hand, workforce challenges in the business aviation sector signify “tremendous career opportunities for those interested in either direction.”
“Some might favor the set schedule and prestige of commercial aviation. Others are attracted to the notion of flying to a broader array of destinations, having more personal interaction with passengers and performing a customer service role beyond just flying the aircraft.”
Alan Stolzer, Ph.D. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s College of Aviation
On the quality-of-life issue, Stolzer believes it depends on individual preferences. “Some might favor the set schedule and prestige of commercial aviation,” Stolzer said. “Others are attracted to the notion of flying to a broader array of destinations, having more personal interaction with passengers and performing a customer service role beyond just flying the aircraft.”
Klein agreed, noting a marked preference among their graduates for roles in business aviation over airlines.
Successful Alums and Partnerships
Embry-Riddle boasts numerous alumni who have carved out successful careers in business aviation. Stolzer mentioned Kim Kissh and Trent Cook as notable examples, both of whom have earned spots on the NBAA Business Aviation Top 40 Under 40 list. Conversely, Klein points to accomplished alumni associated with esteemed organizations like Duncan Aviation, West Star and Gulfstream.
Both schools have forged partnerships with business aviation companies to provide students with internships, job placements and networking opportunities. “There is increasing interest from the business aviation community to engage with academic institutions in the same way airlines have,” Stolzer said.
A recent white paper from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s College of Aviation underscores this evolving scenario. The university stresses that “many students enter the aeronautical science program aspiring for airline careers, often overlooking other opportunities in aviation.” Consequently, the university has embarked on a holistic mission to spotlight the realm of business aviation early in a student’s academic journey.
Walton also discussed the benefits of Summit Aviation’s 16-year partnership with Montana State University, which specifically points out the attributes of business aviation. “When we go into the class, we talk about the opportunities,” Walton said. “They get to see the business jets as they come in and out, and they are exposed to it. So, even though airlines are coming in and out of the school, they know that this sector is also an option.”
As a result, Walton said the program has been mostly successful. “The vast majority of our pilots have come through the aviation program because we’ve been doing it for so long, and we get to know who they are from day one,” he said.
“The vast majority of our pilots have come through the aviation program because we've been doing it for so long, and we get to know who they are from day one.”
Ben Walton President, Summit Aviation
The Attraction of Business Aviation
Several factors contribute to the surge in business aviation interest, including unpredictable political climates, variable fuel prices and the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly impacted the commercial aviation sector. These challenges have made business aviation a preferred alternative for passengers prioritizing safety, flexibility and convenience.
“Business aviation is a great career choice for those who desire to fly or maintain sophisticated equipment, operate on a variable schedule, interact with and provide excellent service to passengers and who are flexible and can readily adapt to changing conditions,” Stolzer said.
In fact, Embry-Riddle is forging industry partnerships to inform curriculum development and launching career pathway programs with business aviation entities. The school has intensified this commitment through specialized scholarships, mentorship programs and student participation at events such as recent NBAA Regional Forums in Miami, FL, and White Plains, NY.
To equip students for this evolving landscape, Embry-Riddle proposes a customized study plan that includes courses such as: Introduction to Business Aviation, Aviation Legislation and Trends and Current Problems in Air Transportation. These courses provide insights into the industry’s changing challenges and opportunities.
Klein also emphasized the chance to work alongside remarkable individuals and handle top-tier equipment in business aviation. Also key are typical industry benefits such as competitive salaries and versatile roles, ranging from floor mechanic to sales.
Expanding Knowledge and Networking
Colleges also are enhancing opportunities for students to broaden their understanding of business aviation as well as expand their professional networks. Stolzer advises students to join organizations like NBAA to widen their networks.
Collaborations, such as the pilot-hiring agreement between Embry-Riddle and NetJets, underscore the escalating interest in business aviation from both the academic and industry spheres. Embry-Riddle’s Runway to Business Aviation Scholarship Program stands out for its emphasis on partnerships with corporations for scholarships, internships and mentorships, preparing students with essential skills and connections.
Klein shared a resonant experience, noting, “We sent students and staff to the recent NBAA Maintenance Conference – it was mind-blowing. We also host an annual Corporate Aviation Day event in December.”
Experts agree, business aviation is no longer a niche sector in education – it is taking a central role in major aviation college curricula. Given the vast career prospects, diverse roles and the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of technological innovation, students are taking note.
Business aviation, said Walton, is “a whole different experience that is very attractive and can offer a good paying job, stability and can be a long and rewarding career.”