Internships expose college students to what corporate aviation can offer as a career
A director of aviation recently reached out to tell me about the success of her flight department’s internship program. In that discussion, we both agreed that it’s time to shine a light on the tremendous value of internships in the business aviation industry and to encourage more Part 91 flight departments to take advantage of the opportunities they provide.
After all, we agreed, internships can be an essential launchpad for a career in business aviation in that they expose more young talent to our industry and give them a glimpse of what it’s like to work in a corporate flight department; help students gain valuable hands-on work experience and aid them in deciding which career path is right for them; and benefit flight departments by giving individual contributors the ability to hone their project management and leadership skills.
Let’s take a look at three such paid internship programs in the areas of dispatching, maintenance, and piloting.
It’s true that in aviation, we mostly associate internships with aspiring pilots and maintenance technicians. But one Northeast-based Fortune 100 flight department is offering an innovative internship program in dispatch.
Launched last summer by a director of executive travel who manages the dispatch team, this pioneering program with two interns benefitted from teaming up with Delaware State University’s aviation program. Its intention, the director noted, was to work with an HBCU to provide opportunities for people of color.
The program deliberately targeted students who were as yet undecided in their aviation career paths. Thus, it sought to expose them to a wide range of roles within a corporate flight department. On day one, the interns were embedded in the dispatch department, where they were exposed to the central hub of the flight department. They were involved in everything from interacting with crews to navigating corporate structures, policies, and invoicing procedures.
“The success of the inaugural program has spurred plans for two more interns next summer, with a vision to encourage other local Part 91 departments to follow suit,” the director noted.
He described how the interns’ experiences went beyond routine tasks. They were exposed to diverse challenges and responsibilities, from producing reports to participating in board meetings and even attending Red Sox games in the corporate suite.
The immersive program was aimed at fostering proactiveness, encouraging the interns to step out of their comfort zones and actively seek opportunities within the department.
The program director added, “The impact of the internship program has been palpable, with one intern extending her participation beyond the summer, which demonstrates the transformative potential of such initiatives.”
Cox Enterprises, based in Atlanta, has a long-running internship program, successfully graduating 21 interns over the past 18 years. They’ve offered a mix of intern opportunities—everything from aircraft maintenance to dispatch to the flight deck. However, they’re now back to focusing more on maintenance interns.
Lee Bradshaw, Cox’s director of technical operations, said: “This is the home of Delta Air Lines, so technicians in this area typically want to work for a major air carrier. Consequently, those working toward their A&Ps are unaware of the career opportunities found in business aviation. This internship program helps us tap into that market and provides exposure to our industry.”
Bradshaw’s aircraft maintenance team provides a robust syllabus with well-defined work responsibilities and tasks. Interns practice routine skills, such as aircraft towing, refueling, marshaling, and operating ground support equipment. They lube the landing gear, service the oxygen, upload navigation databases, calculate weight and balance, and complete a mock FAA Form 337 for a major alteration or repair. But they also get exposure to highly technical work, like troubleshooting advanced avionics systems, re-pinning electrical connectors, and interrogating onboard maintenance computers.
While at Cox, each intern is mentored by a senior technician. The benefits are twofold, Bradshaw explained. First, it gives the technicians the opportunity to grow as leaders. Second, it offloads the intern management responsibility from the leadership team. “As it turns out, our technicians gravitate to the interns,” Bradshaw said. “They’re excited about the program and are happy to take these aspiring A&Ps under their wing. It’s a win/win situation for all involved.”
When each intern graduates from the program, they receive a personalized journal, documenting their work during their time at Cox. It also provides the appropriate maintenance manual reference for each task, as well as the signature from the Cox technician who provided the oversight. Strategically, the journal serves as an excellent tool for promoting the intern’s capabilities as they interview with prospective employers.
Speaking of employers, Bradshaw noted, Cox’s industry partners are key to the success of the program. “We work with regional partners to help our interns secure employment in the areas they’re most interested in,” Bradshaw said. For example, the maintenance teams at StandardAero, Gulfstream, West Star Aviation, and Rolls-Royce all invite the Cox interns to tour their service centers. “Several of our interns have accepted jobs at Gulfstream and FlightSafety International. We’ve even recruited some of our interns back as full-time employees after they’ve gained significant experience,” he explained.
Grace Kane began her piloting internship at Parker Hannifin after her second year attending Saint Louis University. She already had gained nearly 200 hours of flight experience, including having completed her instrument rating and single-engine commercial certificate.
“With the oversight of a pilot, the captain, or first officer, the other intern and I were assigned to different flights,” Kane explained. “We always had a purpose, something to do. For example, they would have us set up the cockpit and put in the flight plan. We’d gather the weather, turn on the airplane, and power up the APU. They placed a lot of trust in us.”
Her experience as a pilot intern was wide-ranging, Kane reported. “We got to fly a full-motion simulator at FlightSafety International. We also got to attend upset prevention and recovery training, alongside the pilots. And we were involved in preparing for flight, which helped us understand everything that goes into a corporate flight department.”
One of the biggest takeaways Kane noted was that she saw all that corporate aviation could offer her. She was particularly engaged in understanding the professional development opportunities and steps needed to advance. “It just really solidified my career choice, ensuring that I am in the right place and that I want to be in corporate aviation,” she explained.
Kane said her collegiate aviation program and subsequent internship gave her a chance to network with airline, cargo, and corporate pilots. These experiences have enabled her to develop the technical and soft skills necessary to be a successful corporate pilot. “In my opinion, nothing replaces real-world experiences early on in one’s career,” she said. “I gained knowledge and experiences that I will carry with me into my career. Furthermore, those experiences have allowed me to nearly quadruple my network.”
Getting Corporate Buy-In
While some flight departments may steer clear of offering internships, the companies that do initiate and run them have high praise for the results. “Our company greatly values development programs, and we were lucky in that we had the support and trust of our executives, as well as HR,” explained one Northeast-based director of executive travel.
In that regard, he encourages other corporate flight departments to consider just how small a percentage of an overall budget it takes to run an internship program. “In fact,” he said, “it’s such a drop in the bucket. The cost of a paid internship is nothing more than a rounding error. Not to mention that it could be a life-changing experience for the individual in that internship.”
From these experiences, it’s clear how valuable internships can be in business aviation. As word spreads, we in this industry are poised to witness a surge in internship opportunities. It’s a positive development. After all, as business aviation leaders, it’s our job to recruit and help mold the next generation of young men and women. Based on the successes mentioned above, I’m positive that these interns carried their passion for aviation back to their peers and well beyond. If we can embrace and apply this mindset, I’m confident that the future will be a bright one. Especially with internships serving as a launchpad for informed, inspired, and well-rounded professionals in the making.
Sheryl Barden, CAM, is the president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, the longest-running recruiting and HR consulting firm exclusively serving business aviation. A thought leader on all things related to business aviation professionals, Barden is a former member of NBAA’s board of directors and its advisory council.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by AIN Media Group.
This AINsight guest column about paid internships appeared in Aviation International News. View the original article.
Photo credit: Grace M. Kane