Fearless flying: Spawning the next generation of aeronautical safety and security leaders

Educating and training the next generation of avionics engineers and technicians
By: | Issue: November, 2015
October 12, 2015

Like it or not, we spend a lot of time on planes and in airports as we travel to campuses across the Nation and around the world. Over the 2015 summer session we sensed winds of change in the aeronautics industry – read as, devising new global security measures; retrofitting outdated air fleets; and creating safe and enjoyable air travel experiences. Out of the din of tragic air crash media coverage, we see a window for leveraging higher ed instruction, research, and workforce development resources in making air travel safer and less stressful for the customer and the aeronautics industry.

Over a century ago the world’s first commercial flight took wing and forever transformed international travel. We learned from Travel Pulse that the average age of a U.S. domestic passenger plane is over a decade. Significantly, there are many aircraft still operating at 30 years or more service time. Just like ground transport, planes need to be constantly monitored, repaired, and have parts replaced.

In addition to the mechanics of airplanes, airports are employing new technologies to keep the skies and travelers safe, including futuristic iris scanners that more quickly and accurately identify travelers when boarding planes; smart bag tags containing tracking chips so that luggage can always be accounted for; and utilization of MagRay, a device that detects potentially harmful liquids.

Delta, one of the world’s largest airlines, announced it would ratchet up safe passage by retrofitting its 1,224 plane fleet with the latest LED lighting for the plane’s interior. For its part, American Airlines is adding new Wi-Fi capabilities, USB ports, and power outlets to every seat, so that no matter your device, you’ll be able to stay powered and connected to your home base during lengthy flights. These illustrative examples are just the tip of the iceberg in addressing an aging commercial aircraft fleet. To ensure these complex avionics innovations actually happen on time and within budget we need to educate and train the next generation of avionics engineers and technicians.

Founded in 1932, Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in New York focuses its mission on cultivating leadership in preparation for successful careers in the aviation industry. Due to its location next to LaGuardia Airport, Vaughn caters to a broad array of aeronautical career specializations – offering degrees and certificates in: Aeronautical Engineering Technology, Aeronautical Sciences, Aircraft Operations, Airline Management, Airport Management, Electronic Avionics Engineering Technology, Mechanical Aeronautical Engineering Technology, Aviation Maintenance, Aviation Maintenance Management, and Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Uniquely, Vaughn offers Mechatronic Engineering – an interdisciplinary field of study that unifies the various subfields of aeronautical engineering.

Though its proximity to LaGuardia is important, Vaughn has a state of the art flight simulator lab empowering students to experience typical and atypical simulation scenarios in maintenance, repair, replacements, and retrofitting of aircrafts. One distinctive aspect of Vaughn’s Airport Management program is a focus on security and safety. Vaughn prides itself on educating future air security personnel looking to build upon their criminal justice and law enforcement backgrounds with highly specialized skills and knowledge of aviation safety and security.

We talked to Vaughn College President Dr. Sharon B Devivo, who stated that the College is “well-positioned in the next five years to offer a market-differentiated complement of degrees in engineering, aviation, technology, and management at our completely renovated campus in New York City. Along with our forward-thinking faculty, our programs utilize labs in simulation, automation technology, and power distribution to prepare students for jobs now and those yet to be developed.”

In the wake of the regulatory shifts in aviation education, training, recruitment, and hiring preferences Vaughn has established a close working relationship with the FAA in connection with the Air Traffic Operations and Approved Technical Operations CTI School. This important air traffic program has historically connected Vaughn students with the air control industry and other regulatory agencies and air safety organizations. Down the road, Congress will have an opportunity to address the future FAA Air Traffic recruitment gap.

At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, the undergraduate program in Aviation Security focuses on big data analytics and predictive methods to combat terrorism and ensure flights remain safe for air travel. The importance of airport security is not limited to passenger planes since increasing numbers of cargo planes fly across the nation and around the world every day.

In Illinois, Lewis University provides rigorous training for aero-security professionals by teaching an interdisciplinary curriculum focused on Aviation and Transport Studies; and Justice, Law, and Public Safety Studies. Distinctively, Everglades University offers programs in Aviation/Aerospace with an Aviation security concentration that deals with Aviation Security, Airport Security, Corporate Security, National Security, and Terrorism and Counterterrorism.

Anyone who witnessed the drone crashing into the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York City, or caught the story of two plainclothes American soldiers subduing a terrorist on a French train recognizes the dark challenges facing our Nation’s transportation security system. After years of airborne experience, we have learned why critical thinking, crisis decision making, and catastrophe communication skills are as important as marksmanship and navigation. This trend should soon be reflected in the compensation ranges for air marshals, air security personnel, and air traffic control security officers.

While some impatient frequent fliers may think that the TSA stands for ‘Thousands Standing Around’, our experience is that TSA staff function as our frontline air travel champions, and deserve state of the art security knowledge and safety training support – key elements in building a safe and secure aeronautical transportation system.

—James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of The Provost’s Handbook: The Role of the Chief Academic Officer (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.