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The value of academic research in aviation

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(Last updated on: 28/07/2021)

One aspect that my aviation students tend to struggle with is academic research. They say to me ‘the likes of ICAO and IATA publish papers without a single reference to an academic article, why can’t I do the same?’ One student of mine claims that ‘all academics are stuffy and just like to make themselves sound intelligent by using lots of long words’. Whilst I don’t deny that there may be some truth in this, there is certainly value in academic research into aviation.

The value of academic research in aviation

The vocation academic paradox

I will pertain that the study of aviation within an academic environment does bring with it a certain level of contradiction. Aviation is, large and wide, a vocational topic. There is an argument to say that it sits more succinctly within the vocational section of the library. Inherently, studies in areas such as this have been associated with the likes of BTECs and apprenticeships, and this has historically worked well for educational institutions and employers alike. Moreover, many teachers and lecturers of aviation come from an industry-based background and thus may lack academic credentials and understanding themselves.

But with over half of the population now undertaking degrees and the demands for managerial positions on the rise, there has been an overwhelming demand by more and more students to study Aviation Management Degrees.  This has brought with it an inherent contradiction: the vocation-academic paradox.

academic research in aviation

One thing that my students struggle with is applying academic analysis and concepts to a vocational context, or vice-versa. Research in aviation is somewhat under-exploited to date, and there is a dearth of literature in many areas. This means that students have little from which to guide them or to model their own work on. Furthermore, many instructors in this area are not experienced academics, meaning that this does not come naturally to them either. There is, however, value in academic research in aviation.

The value of academic research in aviation

Students may perceive academic research to be boring and unnecessarily complex, but in reality it underpins much of our everyday lives. Academic research in aviation, unlike some industry-based studies, is intended to be unbiased. Read a report by Ryanair or British Airways and there will inevitably be some bias towards their own companies. Even Government papers have an element of bias, whereby certain details may be covered up or not disclosed due to fear of bad publicity. Academic papers are peer-reviewed and only research papers of the highest integrity are published.

Academic research is also cross-disciplinary. There are many different areas of research that are well-developed and well-renowned! It is often a simple task to apply such concepts, theories, or models to the context of aviation. Industry professionals will often lack the knowledge and skills to undertake such a task. They can, therefore, miss out on important details or messages. Academics will incorporate philosophical and conceptual ideas into their thinking alongside managerial and business-based concepts.

Thorough research

The findings of many business reports undertaken within the industry can be questionable. It is common for the publisher to fail to provide any description of how data was collected. Or, indeed, how these conclusions were reached. The academic community, however, ensures the greatest integrity in this regard. Researchers have a sound knowledge of research methodologies and the most appropriate approaches to use in advance of undertaking any research.

Many academic studies are more objective and more abstract than those undertaken within the industry. This is because they tend not to have any agendas or biases. Although, it is true to say that completely eliminating these aspects is a troublesome task. This then enables the formation of relevant models, which can be applied, in many instances, to a range of contexts. In turn this often makes the research more valuable; with greater impact.

Whilst many might view having a ‘textbook understanding’ as a negative impact, choosing to value ‘real-world’ experience, this is a false conception. In fact, the best academic research in aviation is based on a combination of the two. The utopian outcome derives from a combination of both industry and academic viewpoints & perspectives. This may come from one individual with experience in both areas, or from multiple persons collaborating on a research project.

Student application of academic research in aviation

The student who achieves the top grades is the one who takes the best of both worlds: the industry-based and the academic-based. The content of their work should have a clear conceptual framework. It should also have a strong theoretical underpinning. This, then, should be discussed in relation to current industry debates and examples. A study of the public perception of pilotless aircraft, for example, would entail a conceptual analysis of the concept of perception and automation in the transport industry, which would then be annotated with industry-based examples deriving from relevant reports and publications.

For more help on planning your academic research in aviation, you can visit this post.

5 Comments
  1. Katie

    I take it you mean are not, not or not?? You do realise it is Ryanair not two words…

    Having completed both undergraduate and postgraduate in aviation I find your article quiet bizarre. Firstly there is not a dearth of publications and secondly my lecturers not only had years of experience in the industry they also were educated to Masters and some had completed their PhD. They give examples from industry underpinned by theoretical concepts and models

    Reply
    • Hayley

      Well done on completing your undergraduate and postgraduate studies Katie! You were lucky to be taught by such qualified aviation academics as there are not many around- aviation is a relatively new discipline and as such most experienced industry practitioners do not also hold high level academic qualifications in the field. It’s not impossible to find such academics, but they are certainly in demand! As for a dearth of literature, perhaps if you take a look at the body of available texts in a subject such as tourism or business management then you might have something to compare it to? Plus, the aviation industry has grown and evolved so quickly that any such literature often fast becomes outdated.

      Reply
  2. Jannet

    Well done on completing your undergraduate and postgraduate studies Katie!
    The article is great

    Reply
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