Aviation Writing: Utilizing your aviation experience through communication

Aug. 1, 2000

Aviation Writing

Utilizing your aviation experience through communication

By Michelle Garetson

August 2000

How do you feel about aviation news that is presented on TV or radio or in print? Do you think that the reporting is accurate or fair? Aviation is a dynamic industry, and events that make the news are usually dramatic. The layperson relies on those presenting the information and will form an opinion based on the sound bytes and print pieces received. Unfortunately, in many cases, those writing the news are not aviation industry people and therefore are writing from the perspective of what their aviation experience has been to that point.

Informed aviation communication is necessary to both educate as well as eradicate misconceptions held by the flying public. Also, those in the aviation industry require accurate information from reliable sources to maintain safety and compliance in their jobs.

The expertise of aviation technicians can be a useful tool to help present information. This is one of the reasons that Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) has developed an Aviation Communication degree program.

Industry demand

"We felt that there was a real demand in the industry," explains Sarah Fogle, Associate Dean for Academic Support and the current program coordinator for ERAU's Aviation Communication program. "When we began to examine that, we got such positive feedback from various professionals in the industry that there is a crying need for this. While aviation and aerospace sectors can hire communicators with degrees from other institutions, they most often lack the technical background that the employers would like for them to have. We felt that we could fill a niche here at Embry-Riddle by having a Communication degree, which combines the best of communication with a technical component, hopefully focused on aviation and aerospace."

Course outline

The Aviation Communication degree is a Bachelor of Science degree that requires a minor, as well as an aviation foundation. It is a new offering to students, and the first freshman class began in the fall semester of 1999 at the Daytona Beach, FL, campus.

About 30 students are enrolled in the program, and some of those have transferred internally from other degree programs, such as engineering or aeronautical science.

In addition to general courses, students take 12 hours of Aviation Survey courses, and every student is required to take the "Foundations of Aeronautics" course. The aviation survey courses broaden students' aviation knowledge and give them a working vocabulary.

"The last, defined aspect of the curriculum is a technical minor or area of concentration," says Fogle. For example, students can get a degree in Communication and minor in Human Factors or Air Traffic Control or Aviation Safety to name a few."

"We're very excited about a new minor coming on this fall in Information Technology," Fogle adds, "which should offer a great blend of the Internet and the Web and the technical end of it."

Credit for A&Ps

While this new degree program is not part of the Embry-Riddle Airframe and Powerplant curriculum, Fogle agrees much of the credits used to earn the certificate could be applied toward the technical minor.

"They would be able to parlay at least some, if not a good bit of their expertise to achieve that," offers Fogle.

Where the jobs are

Fogle explains that the program is not a broadcast communication program, it's public relations, media relations and professional writing. Students would qualify for jobs in a whole array of areas such as journalism, technical writing, advertising, desktop or Internet publishing, communication consulting, speech writers, and broadcast news writers.

"We're claiming that we're 'one-of-a-kind' in that we combine the communication core with technical requirements," says Fogle. "What makes it different is that we expect our graduates to leave here with a fundamental understanding of aviation. I have an example of one student who transferred from Aeronautical Science. He knows how airplanes fly and he knows when he reads a news story whether it's right or not. What the folks out in the world are telling us is that they can get people who can write the press releases or who can do the communications end of it, but they don't know the aviation part."

Industry experts

Maybe after receiving your Charles Taylor Master Mechanic award, you will consider writing down your experiences in aviation to preserve the knowledge gained over your career. Or, you may want to communicate to others in the field about a procedure or a product that has greatly enhanced your efficiency. You may even have a bit of journalistic curiosity under your skin regarding regulations or regulatory bodies to want to explain to the layperson what it really means and how it affects them.

Most technicians would rather have a wrench in their hand than a pen, but there are those who could probably work well with both. If you have expertise in a procedure or aircraft system, why not write about it?

Aircraft Maintenance Technology's success is due largely in part to the industry experts who consistently present the critical issues facing aircraft technicians. The columnists are not journalists. Most of them are, or were, aircraft technicians or have worked in other sectors of the industry. They are able to communicate to the readers because their concerns often mirror the readers concerns and therein lies the connection.

AMT's Editor-in-Chief, Greg Napert, an A&P who has worked in general aviation, commuter airlines, and corporate aviation, began his aviation journalism career while studying aviation engineering. Napert had always been interested in writing (a good test to see if you really want to pursue this vein). He answered a want ad for "Aviation Writer" and took a part-time job with a publisher who had won an aviation contract to write Beechcraft manuals.

A few years later, he saw the words "Aviation Writer" again in the newspaper, which turned out to be AMT. The rest, as they say, is history. Even after more than a decade with the magazine, Napert still feels the job challenges him as it incorporates his love of aviation and technical information with his interest in writing.

Whatever the case, if you want to communicate and share your knowledge, today is the best day to start.

Where to start

Unfortunately, new writers often face a Catch-22 situation with, "You can't get published without already being published." Often, a publication requires the writer to send previously published work along with the new submission. So who's going to print your first piece?

Constance Bovier, an aviation writer who has been published in several aviation publications, offers the following advice to those who want to try their hand at writing.

Bovier's background in aviation began when she was enlisted in the Air Force in the 1960s. After her military experience and 12 years spent raising a family, she began her writing career while working for an advertising agency writing copy for products and services. The agency received a contract from Mitsubishi Aircraft and, capitalizing on Bovier's fascination with aviation, gave the assignment to her. She began writing copy for the MU-2 aircraft and the introduction of the Diamond I corporate jet.

Bovier built up an extensive aviation portfolio with the Mitsubishi contract, and by later receiving assignments as a freelancer from companies such as Gulfstream Aircraft and SimuFlite Training.

Your portfolio could be established through writing for your company newsletter, or you could start one if none exists. You may also offer to help with promotional pieces or technical manuals for your operations.

Fame or fortune

Bovier's first article was published in a Canadian aviation magazine on the topic of Canadians coming to SimuFlite in Texas for training.

She was paid for the piece but says that she has been paid more for advertising materials she produced than for articles she has written.

"You can have either the excitement of seeing your name in print in trade magazines as well as the feedback from your readers," says Bovier, "or you can get a sizeable fee from producing advertising or company-sponsored materials without the byline. You can't always get fame and fortune in writing."

Writer's blocks

When asked if she faced any stumbling blocks when she first started in aviation writing, Bovier replied, "None really. I have, on occasion, been hampered by not being a pilot when writing for pilot books. Credentials are key, especially when writing for technical publications. An article about aircraft maintenance from an aircraft technician working in the industry would certainly be taken more seriously than one from a writer without those qualifications."

Good advice for beginning writers

If you feel a little queasy over expressing your thoughts in words, a trip to the bookstore may help. There are several books and magazines devoted to the business of writing, especially with how and where to submit your articles. Other publications address developing outlines, finding your "voice," and what pay rates you might expect. Writer's Market, considered "The Writer's Bible," features consumer and trade magazines, book publishers, script buyers and more.

Writing courses offered at local colleges are helpful as are local writer's groups and writer's conferences.

Hard questions

"You really need to ask yourself some hard questions," advises Bovier. Some to consider:

• What type of writing am I interested in - how-to articles, historical pieces, news?

• How would I improve on what's been written so far about this subject?

• What types of publications would be a good fit for my work?

Keep in touch

Staying in tune with the industry through reading trade publications, newsletters, and promotional materials gathered at trade shows will help writers develop the kinds of articles that will be of interest for editors and readers alike. Talk with people in the industry - ask them what they read.

Web writing

For those just starting out, the Internet may be the vehicle for your writing. Many online publications welcome new writers. For more information visit www.content-exchange.com or www.writersdigest.com.

Final approach

Writing is like any other craft - you need to have the right tools in place and you need to practice using those tools to hone your skill. Remember your first logbook entry? How does that compare with those you make now? It's the same principle - practice improves your skill.

"Always emphasize good communication - clean and concise," says Bovier. "Clever or overblown wording, if not handled correctly, will muddy the message you want to present."

Beginning writers are often advised to "write what you know." Aircraft maintenance technicians have a wealth of knowledge and information that they have to know to do their jobs, but also they can communicate this knowledge through writing for those inside, as well as outside, the fence.

Don't take our word for it....

The demand for technical writers is expected to continue to increase as technology advances. Scientific and technical information needs to be communicated to others. Growth in high technology and electronics industries will require those who can write technical manuals, user's guides, and training materials. Persons with the technical skills necessary for Internet development will also be in demand.

From the Occupational Outlook Handbook 2000-2001, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Dept. of Labor. For more information about Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Aviation Communication degree, call (904) 226-6000 or (800) 222-3728 or visit the ERAU web site at www.db.erau.edu