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Navigating pilots to higher education

Posted 1 May 2019 · Add Comment

The dedication and commitment in time and money required to qualify as a pilot or air traffic controller often militates against obtaining a rounded education. Now someone is trying to do something about it.

As they move through their careers, pilots and air traffic controllers often wish to go into management. However, they often lack the skills and background required to exploit their potential to the full.
This is detrimental to the long-term development of the aviation industry as it advances on an ever-more complex future.
Captain Tilmann Gabriel, the City, University of London’s senior lecturer at the school of mathematics, computer science and engineering, and director of its MSc aviation management programmes, is determined to do something about the problem.
“We do not have an academic education arm for aviation jobs,” he explained. “All licensed jobs are driven by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) annex 1. That means two things. When you are a pilot, air traffic controller or an engineer, or in senior management, such as crew management, you have no university education. You just have a licence.”
City, University of London is one of a number of international academic institutions trying to rectify the problem. It offers MSc courses in air transport management, air safety management, and aircraft maintenance management. In August 2018, it launched the airport management programme, a new discipline for senior airport staff, who have at least two years’ vocational training.
“This is a part-time MSc programme next to the job and takes three years. It costs you a relatively mild £15,900 ($20,000) and gives you the option of four different degrees – for more and more airlines now the requirement to get into management.”
With more than 400 part-time students from the aviation industry now enrolled in its MSc programmes, and over 1,500 alumni at its campuses in London, Dubai and Frankfurt, City has a key executive education responsibility for future global aviation leaders.
“Four years ago I joined City University, which is now part of the University of London, by taking over a programme that was started by [the late] Professor [Roger] Wootton in 1998. After 40 years as an airline captain and in many aviation leadership positions, this was a great opportunity to support the industry with leadership education,” Gabriel said.
Industry veteran Gabriel’s CV reads like a textbook management career, including posts as training captain and executive, at Lufthansa (1976-96), and leadership roles at Abu Dhabi’s Royal Jet (2003-05) and Qatar Executive (2011-13), as well as at Afghanistan’s Safi Airways (2007-09).
He obtained his air transport pilot license (ATPL) at Lufthansa in 1979 and has been a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society since 1985. He was appointed executive chairman of the International Pilot Training Association (IPTA) council and president of the IPTA executive board in August 2016. He is also researching a related PhD.
His latest posting only underlines the need to smooth the career paths of the new generation, given the times he, himself, has had to forego his management career to obtain additional qualifications.
“My longstanding – since I started at Lufthansa – intent has been to see how can we bring aviation into a regulated vocational and university-trained programme. We have several ideas. Already in Germany we have the University of Worms working together with the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) [certificate]. You have it in the US, with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and several other institutions there.
“The US has a dilemma in that you have a four-year college education, which is, in itself, very expensive – around $100,000 – and then the ATP combined with it is another $100,000, so it is a very expensive choice,” he said.
Gabriel argues that a way should be found to marry the bachelor degree with a standard ATPL, or other vocational licences, so that individuals can tackle the MSc with the earlier degree in hand.
“One idea, other than these postgraduate or master’s programmes, for people who are in the business, who are pilots and middle managers and so on, is that we do the pilot and air traffic control (ATC) education licensing first, because they are heavily needed, but then add a BSc on top of it while they are working as pilots. That BSc is then a part-time programme that gives them the undergraduate degree.”
To support the Middle East and Africa, Gabriel developed further the City facility in Dubai. Programme modules, of which there are 28, are also taught at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Academy in Dubai. “We have students from all around the world and they can choose whether they go to London to our university campus, or here, to the DIFC in Dubai, or to Frankfurt. We are looking into other country locations,” he said.
“That means that Qatari students, who cannot go to Dubai at the moment, can come to Frankfurt or London. We have a very flexible programme for our student customers, who can very easily fly to other locations.
“The principle module structure is that you have an initial reading phase, where you have to read several books and articles, then you have three days onsite, either in Dubai, London or Frankfurt, at the moment, and then you have six weeks to write a coursework. You choose eight modules for the 120 credits post-graduate diploma, and then you write a complex academic dissertation for your MSc.
“That is the line-up of our programme, which is very successful. And [our] graduates are everywhere. One recent student was not even allowed to attend the graduation ceremony in Dubai or London, because the minute he was finished, as soon as he qualified for his MSc, he was appointed chief operating officer of his airline.
“It is a very much-needed education qualification in many parts of the world, for many airlines, especially in the Middle East, to go into senior management.”
The MSc in airport management is another course Gabriel added so that the middle managers who show talent, and who often only have a vocational education, can get a post-graduate degree and then become senior managers or executives for an airport. He said this important qualification was supported by the Airports Council International (ACI) in Montreal.
“It is fascinating, at my age, to give back with these MSc programmes, especially [with] my research area, which is very much focussed on the future of pilots, the future of the aviation industry, and how we can develop a much better organised education framework for the aviation industry,” he said.
“Parents of young people do want their kids to have a university education. That might be one of the reasons why we have a significant problem finding enough pilots, engineers and air traffic controllers. We are all in the same boat, looking for young people who want to join our industry.”

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