Date of Award

Summer 2023

Access Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation Business Administration


College of Business

Committee Chair

Tamilla Curtis

First Committee Member

Scott Ambrose

Second Committee Member

Timothy Holt


Career choice motivation research studies the factors involved during a person’s decision-making process regarding which career to pursue (Skatova & Ferguson, 2014). These factors are often studied in individuals who have not yet entered the workforce, such as students. Although there is a significant amount of research on career choice motivations for doctors, dentists, and other related fields, research on career choice motivations for pilots is sparse. As air traffic is expected to grow at approximately 4.7% per year for the next 20 years (Federal Aviation Administration, 2022), a key factor in the aviation industry’s growth is the availability of pilots to operate the increased number of flights. Therefore, pilot training institutions need to find ways to attract students to become pilots and train in their programs to satisfy the demand for qualified pilots. This study aimed to identify the key motivational factors of current flight training students to better understand how individuals are motivated to pursue a career in aviation. The theoretical framework used in this study is based on self-determination theory (SDT), as originally introduced by Deci and Ryan (2000). The central foundation of SDT is that humans are motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. These factors can be classified into one of three types of motivation: autonomy, competence, or relatedness. Further application of SDT breaks career motivation down into three potential sources of career choice motivation: influence, job rewards, or status. Cultural background was another key area of focus for this study as data was collected from two different populations of students: American and foreign. The purpose of adopting this cross-cultural approach was to identify whether students from different nations are led to a career in aviation by different key motivational factors. This study implemented a semi-structured interview research approach where students were asked eight questions on foundational sources of career motivation designed to categorize their responses into the theoretical framework of SDT. The responses from the participants were then analyzed using NVivo, which aids in identifying common themes among verbal qualitative response data. Twenty interviews were conducted with 10 American and 10 foreign students. The foreign participants originated from Myanmar, Taiwan, South Korea, Germany, Zimbabwe, France, Malaysia, and Qatar. Each participant was asked eight questions, which they could answer in any way they wanted. The questions aimed to better understand how each participant became interested in the industry, took their initial steps toward pursuing the career field, and what sources of motivation affected their decision. Finally, the students were asked about the effect of COVID-19 on their motivation to become commercial pilots. The results showed that both populations were affected by similar sources of motivation but with different emphases on them. They were highly motivated by the influence of other individuals in the industry and the job rewards of being pilots. However, the pipeline process between the two populations varied greatly: most of the American participants had access to training opportunities before going to college, while the foreign participants did not. Furthermore, the results indicated that a majority of the participants showed little amotivation resulting from COVID-19. In fact, half of the studied population experienced a positive impact on motivation.