The value of academic research in aviation

The value of academic research

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 of academic research in 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 and 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 visa-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 or not experienced academics, meaning that this does not come naturally to them either. There are, however, is value in academic research in aviation.

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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 and 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 and therefore will miss out on important details or messages. Academics will incorporate philosophical and conceptual ideals into their thinking alongside managerial and business-based concepts.

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 conclusions were reached. The academic community, however, ensure the greatest integrity in this regard and 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 bias (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, instead valuing ‘real-world’ experience, this is a false conception. In fact, the best academic research in aviation is based on a combination of the two, with the utopian outcome deriving from a combination of both industry and academic viewpoints and 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: the industry-based and the academic-based. The content of their work should have a clear conceptual framework. It should 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 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.

If you wish to cite any of the content in the post please use reference ‘Stainton, Hayley. (2018) Lifeasabutterfly.’