Robert Rockmaker By Robert Rockmaker • August 19, 2014

Ask an Expert: Robert Rockmaker, President and CEO of the Flight School Association of North America

In honor of National Aviation Day, celebrating famed aviator Orville Wright’s birthday on August 18th, we sat down with Robert Rockmaker, president and CEO of the Flight School Association of North America (FSANA) for a chat about the flight industry, where it’s going and how your aviation career can take off.

Orville Wright would be proud.

Q: What advice would you give students in the University’s air traffic control, aviation flight technology and aviation maintenance technology programs who are looking for promotions and advancement in the aviation field?

Robert: Having or developing the skill sets to work, process and communicate effectively are important ingredients for success, no matter what the career pathway. In the aviation industry, some of the careers such as airline pilot are almost 100 percent driven based on seniority. This model has been around for decades and will most likely remain in place for many years. People who are open to continuous learning and ongoing personal improvement tend to advance in their careers more than those who stagnate.

Today, with the rapid changing face of our planet brought about by high technology, people need to be open to change. Those that can evolve tend to do better over the long haul. As they say, nothing is forever and there are no guarantees in life. People interested in developing their management skills should focus on how to communicate. I believe that ongoing education is important. Learning for life is a motto that I follow and practice.

Q: What skills and technologies should students continually work on and update?

Robert: Both verbal and written skills are important. These form the backbone for most career pathways. Of course, learning new technical skills and techniques is an important part of the career life cycle. I would suggest that people brush up on their basic math skills. Math forms a core element in almost everything we do in one way or the other. There are many ways to re-explore the world of math, especially with the Internet.

With respect to aircraft maintenance, there will always be the need for trained people to provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services on aircraft. The Internet does not provide a platform for the actual work required to maintain aircraft. This is a hands-on career pathway. I encourage people to explore the aircraft technician segment.

Airline and a majority of business jet aircraft require two pilots in the cockpit. On the other hand, it takes a crew of people to perform the maintenance tasks that are required under the FAA regulations. People who enjoy working with their hands should explore the world of aircraft maintenance. Aircraft repair is highly technical and requires ongoing knowledge in order to stay current with the latest trends and techniques.

Q: Why are FAA licensed pilots, commercially licensed pilots and licensed air traffic controllers encouraged to pursue a degree? What is the benefit of returning to college after such experiences?

Robert: Pilots and air traffic controllers must meet specific FAA medical standards in order to be actively involved in their respective careers. In the airline pilot community, a pilot who cannot pass an FAA Class 1 medical exam is not permitted to fly for an airline. In essence, their career as an airline pilot is over unless they are able to regain their FAA medical certificate.

For many years, I have encouraged those who want to fly for a living to consider a post-secondary college degree in another study area. Management, marketing or finance are always good educational pathways when seeking a more diversified educational portfolio. An airline pilot may not be able to fly for a living due to non-passage of the FAA medical exam however he or she, with the appropriate college degree, could move into a management or marketing slot at the airline.

Q: What is the best way for someone to gain experience in the aviation field?

Robert: I have always said that experience is a great teacher. When a person is building and/or expanding their knowledge base, it is almost always beneficial to try and work somewhere within the industry. Becoming a baggage handler or working at an FBO in customer service or pumping fuel can be very educational. Getting a little dirty is OK. The experience cannot be replicated in the classroom or online.

Q: How do you view the future of the aviation? What direction or advances do you see happening?

Robert: Aviation has a bright future and it is an expanding industry, especially outside the United States. The large growth will take place in Asia and the Middle East.

China has just started to open their airspace to civil aviation. China is building over 80 new airports to help accommodate the large growth that is just starting in that region of the world. Up until recently, the airspace over China was totally controlled by the military. It was next to impossible to operate a general aviation (GA) aircraft in China. Today, that is changing. Just three years ago, there was one flight school in China. Today, there are six schools and more on the drawing boards.

In the United States, airline passenger enplanements will grow but at a modest rate. People who want to get to their destination with a rapid deployment will continue to utilize the U.S. airline system that has been developed. Across the U.S., many commercial service airports have seen declines in their passenger traffic. This has been due to the modern day economic depression that we are still coming through. Over time, passenger counts will again rise as the economy continues to stabilize and grow.

As I noted earlier, the large growth in both airline and general aviation will be in China and the Middle East. There are opportunities for Americans to start their aviation careers both in the U.S. and abroad if they so choose.

What other questions do you have for Robert? Leave them in the comments below! 
Robert Rockmaker

Written by Robert Rockmaker

Robert Rockmaker has been in the aviation industry for over 47 years, and serves as president and CEO of the Flight School Association of North America (FSANA), the first trade association dedicated to the flight training industry. As a commercial pilot with instrument, multiengine, glider and seaplane ratings, Robert also earned an associate degree in air transportation, a bachelor's degree in air commerce, and continues to study business and aviation management.

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