In an expanding industry that has very little margin for error, the demand for staff with top training qualifications is growing rapidly. Russell McCaffery, dean of transportation programmes at Broward College, discusses the advantages that a degree-level education in aviation brings to students and employers.

Could you give us some background to the college?

Russell McCaffery: Broward is a state college in Florida serving Broward County and the metropolitan Fort Lauderdale area. It has existed since 1960 and today is one of the top-ten community colleges in the US, as judged by the Aspen Institute.

We have a very international flavour despite being a local college; 37% of our 67,000 students were born outside of the US, representing 175 countries. The college’s international education also extends overseas to our centres in many other countries, including China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Ecuador and Peru.

The college has been running aviation courses since 1963. We currently offer degree programmes in professional pilot technology, aviation maintenance management, air traffic control, aviation operations and airport operations.

How much demand is there for airport staff trained to degree level?

Airlines and airports are increasingly looking for employees who have specialised training and knowledge in the field. We are fortunate to have a very strong relationship with the Broward County Aviation Department and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), where we have several students working in an internship programme each semester. In fact, the majority of FLL’s operations division comprises Broward College graduates. The airport understands the importance of the training we provide. They know there can be very little tolerance for errors on an active airfield, and they value our classroom training which helps to reduce the amount of on-the-job training necessary for a new employee to become fully functioning.

What does your airport management course teach its students?

We train students on aviation-specific topics such as airport management, aviation management, airport planning and design, aviation law and regulations, and aviation security and safety. We also require them to go through the same basic navigation courses as pilots. This gives them a good understanding of how the whole aviation system works. The most important aspect of the programme, however, is the internship. This allows the students to tie all their training together in a real-world operating environment.

We also give students a solid foundational understanding of how businesses operate, offering courses in business law, communications, technical writing and economics.

We are fortunate to have several existing managers from FLL teaching for the college as adjunct professors. They help ensure our curriculum remains up to date, and that our students are taught the most recent developments in airport and airline operations.

Is there a similar demand for college-trained airport traffic controllers?

In the US, ATC is handled almost exclusively by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for which most of our ATC students are seeking to work. As air travel increases worldwide, the global airspace is becoming more crowded and airports are busier than ever. The FAA provides a comprehensive training programme to its employees and has rigorous processes to ensure controller competency, but our training programme gives students an added advantage of having spent two years being taught by retired air traffic controllers on world-class simulation equipment. Our graduates pass FAA training at significantly higher rates than those who have had no such training.

How does your ATC course teach its students to handle such a demanding role?

Our ATC programme trains students how to deal with the industry’s global nature. Our simulation lab has $2.5-million-worth of equipment that realistically simulates the operation of an airport control tower and the different types of radar facilities. Our students train on the same equipment used by the FAA and are taught by retired air traffic controllers.

We can simulate everything from a single-runway airport with light traffic and beautiful weather to a very complex airport with intersecting runways, dozens of aircraft to handle and poor weather. We can even simulate conditions that are unlikely to ever exist, such as making it snow at Miami International Airport.

Our students don’t just learn the fundamentals of how to separate and safely manage aircraft, they also receive training in basic aviation navigation, weather, aircraft aerodynamics, human factors in aviation, aviation safety and aviation security. This combination of targeted ATC training, combined with a broad understanding of how the whole aviation system works, makes our students valuable to employers.

Do you offer any training programmes for those already employed in the industry?

While we offer traditional two-year associates degree programmes, we also develop specific training programmes for corporate partners. We have been honoured to have been chosen by the Civil Aviation Administration of China to develop and deliver targeted air traffic courses to many of their employees. These programmes are always well received by the participants, and many have stayed in contact with us once they’ve returned home.

What separates your courses from those of the competition?

The breadth of our curriculum, the quality of our simulation equipment, the numerous industry partnerships we have, and our competitive edge on student tuition all combine to make our programme stand out. We also do a tremendous job of recruiting and attracting a diverse group of students by reaching out to under-served populations who may not naturally think of a career in aviation.

Will demand for high-quality training courses increase over the years to come?

As the worldwide economy rebounds and discretionary income levels grow, people are travelling more. The aviation industry is expanding to meet that demand. Despite what some might say, aviation is still a glamorous business and one that people want to be involved in. Ensuring that high-quality training programmes such as ours are available and capable of training students is of increasing importance.