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Plane sailing: Maintaining the talent pipeline in aviation

A range of degree and diploma courses aimed at the aviation sector are now on offer, and there’s likely to be plenty of job opportunities for graduates

DCU’s Ryan Academy is named after the late Tony Ryan and focuses on teaching business to students. But Ireland’s success in aircraft leasing is also referred to as the “Ryan Academy”, at least within the industry.

It’s an homage to the entrepreneur’s outsized and lasting influence on the sector he invented, as founder of pioneering Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA) and, subsequently, Ryanair. As well as having been an astute businessman he is remembered as an unparalleled incubator of talent.

Because of his legacy, not alone is Ireland a world leader in aircraft finance, but Irish people have succeeded at top level across the wider aviation industry worldwide.

To maintain that momentum, Ireland needs to continue incubating aviation industry talent. It’s why there are now a number of courses at third level and beyond including, most recently, UCD Smurfit School’s new Professional Diploma in Aviation Finance.


The programme was developed with direct input from the aircraft finance and leasing sector, to ensure it fully addresses the needs of the industry.

Participants acquire a detailed understanding of the financial processes associated with the aviation finance sector including suitable risk assessment and aircraft asset management, accounting issues, financing and credit enhancement, leasing developments and insurance applications.

There is a substantial focus on sustainability issues too, and how finance can support the sector’s proposed decarbonisation targets. It’s designed to help those on the course to develop the knowledge and skills to reach the highest level in the aircraft and airline financing industry.

Though a standalone diploma, it also forms part of the optional MSc in Business (Leadership & Management Practice) Pathway.

With demand for aviation finance skills set to grow in line with record levels of new aircraft orders predicted over the next two decades, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“One in two planes are now leased and this is a growing trend,” says UCD’s Prof John Cotter, who teaches a number of modules on the new course and was involved in its development.

“Ireland is a leader in an industry that is growing. Not only is leasing expanding but already the top 14 companies in this sector in the world are headquartered in Ireland,” says Prof Cotter, who likens the sector’s success to that of iconic Irish consumer brands such as Kerrygold.

“The trend towards leasing is growing dramatically, which makes sense, given that a new plane costs around €100 million – a lot of money for any airline to have on the balance sheet. Leasing allows the airline to pay that down over 20 or 30 years, rather than all upfront now. I’d expect between 60 and 70 per cent of aircraft to be leased in the coming years,” he says.

With the sector set for around 3 per cent growth in passenger numbers in the coming years, as well as growth in freight, the demand for aircraft finance skills is on an upward trajectory.

UCD’s Professional Diploma in Aviation Finance comes in addition to its Master’s Degree in Aviation Finance, established seven years ago. To date, more than 250 graduates have come through that programme, many of them from overseas.

Ireland competes not just with China and Singapore, its main rivals for aircraft leasing, but increasingly with the Middle East too. Attracting international candidates to Ireland to become specialists in aviation finance is helpful in building a deep and diverse talent pool here.

Talent is a key part of the success of the industry, and has been since its inception, says Prof Cotter. “It’s about developing the talent hub. We want to ensure the talent is here.”

That is borne out by the growing variety of courses on offer, both on a full- and part-time basis, online, in person and in hybrid format.

University of Limerick’s Professional Diploma in Aviation Leasing and Finance, set up in 2014 in partnership with Aviation Skillnet, was the first Level 9 university-accredited programme in Ireland tailored for the aviation Leasing sector and delivered online to for maximum flexibility.

Dublin Business School has a postgraduate diploma programme in aviation finance that is underpinned by a strong foundation in leadership. Delivered on a hybrid basis, it emphasises the development of effective financial management skills to structure aviation leases, including structured finance deals using special purpose vehicles, and managing aviation leases throughout the lease life cycle. It also ensures participants are well positioned to contribute to the digital transformation of aviation leasing.

DCU offers its highly regarded degree in aviation management – a four-year degree programme that includes aircraft finance modules as well as the option for concomitant pilot or air traffic controller studies. The Carlow campus of SETU, long a bastion for aircraft maintenance training, also offers specialist industry programmes, ranging from a degree in aviation management to a certificate in aircraft acquisition and finance.

For those looking for a shorter burst, independent City Colleges runs a 10-session part-time professional diploma in aviation leasing and finance.

Subsidised employer-led training is also available through the Aviation Skillnet, part of Skillnet Ireland, the State’s workforce learning agency. Its courses can be tailored to meet the needs of companies throughout the aviation sector, from finance to maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), says Kumar Kaneswaran, the Aviation Skillnet network manager.

It can provide funding assistance for everything from third-level education to in-house training, as well as expert guidance in relation to talent development.

Skillnet is particularly attractive for small to medium-sized companies operating in this space, he points out. “Large players typically have resources in-house to do this, so we’re really looking to raise awareness among smaller operators and start-ups to come to us for guidance, support and networking,” says Kaneswaran.

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times