It was 2008 and on August 22nd I became a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). Just 6 days later I earned my seaplane privileges add-on to my Commercial pilot certificate. What’s unique about this? I earned my CFI in Bedford, Massachusetts and my float add-on in Talkeetna, Alaska!
I did this as a vacation, a trip with buddies, now years later it has helped me open doors…
If you hang around airports long enough, doors will open for you. Whether it is a flight with someone in their airplane one time or a longtime friendship, or more, there are a variety of opportunities just waiting for you in aviation. In 15 years I went from a teenager taking flight lessons at the local airport to working in airport administration and management… I believe my work ethic and dedication had a lot to do with that, but it also had a lot to do with finding opportunities and taking advantage of them along the way.
At one point a friend and boss of mine described me as being like the character Norm from Cheers only I was at the Mansfield Airport and not a bar in Boston. I was always around and knew everyone who came through… It was actually a pretty apt comparision. Over the years I’ve spent at airports I’ve been lucky enough to meet a number of great people who have become my friends including people like Jim Quinn, Tom Nery and Mitch Roberts who all write here. Plus many others, like Peter Ofner who I taught to fly and who has on many an occasions let me use his airplane for pictures for this website and for the Aviation Adventures television show when I was filming that a few years ago. Flying has brought me friends from all over the world (remember when I wrote about the crew from the UK who came to visit me at EWB last Spring?) and some that are much closer…
These stories aren’t that uncommon either, I know a lot of people because I met them at the airport. Similarly, I know a lot of people who seized opportunities and took advantage of open doors, or even found closed doors and swung them open, creating their own opportunity. I have written about taking advantage and seizing opportunities here before and I’ll continue to because we need more young people (and those more experienced in life too) in aviation!
In 2008, on an extremely hot New England summer day I earned my flight instructor certificate at Hanscom Field. The date was August 22nd and I’ll never forget being number 7 in line for takeoff, baking in the 1968 Piper Cherokee Arrow I flew that day, it was more than 95 degrees and humid, I was sweating profusely, but my smile was un-containable. A smooth ride back to Mansfield was ahead of me and I soaked it up the whole way. When I made my 10-mile call the flight school owner and longtime friend of mine, Kelley, asked if I was happy. My reply was, “Yes, for sure!”
The next day I had my first flight as an instructor at KING Aviation-Mansfield, where I’d worked as a line rep since 2005. This was a job I got by being a young kid taking lessons, asking diligently, each month, if they needed any help, with anything. When I finally got the opportunity it was because someone got sick (he fully recovered thankfully). I jumped at it and worked my behind off and it was noticed, so eventually I became a flight instructor. Then this eventually led me to being the Operations Manager and Assistant Airport Manager, but the real story here is from back in August 2008.
To say I was motivated to finish my CFI training was an understatement, I had been plugging away for 8 months working through the training and waited an extra 6 weeks for the Arrow’s engine to be overhauled before I could take my FAA checkride. The real reason I wanted to be finished was a big trip, months in the planning, with two of my college buddies to travel up to Alaska and get our seaplane ratings before returning to school for our senior year.
I had always had fascinations with floatplanes and Alaska, this trip would be the ultimate combination of those two things. The idea was that the three of us would all finish our CFI training and exams before traveling up to Alaska for a fun vacation and then heading back to school. There was no way in the world I was going on vacation to study, even for flying, so when my checkride for early August was cancelled by the FAA, they heard it loud and clear that I was traveling thousands of miles away at the end of the month and they needed to find time to get my exam done before that happened.
On the last possible day before the trip, there I was in the elevator explaining to the head of the Flight Standard District Office (FSDO) and my examiner that 3rd class medical certificates for pilots under 40 were now valid for 60 months, a change that became effective that week. Both were surprised at my accuracy, and I think that helped make my check ride a little easier… So I headed to Alaska with my two buddies, who unfortunately didn’t get to finish their training before our trip, but it was okay, I was done and feeling very accomplished!
A couple of our friends gave us a hard time about spending a few thousand dollars on a ‘useless’ rating at the time… I, of course, didn’t care, I wanted be a seaplane pilot. I knew I didn’t have access to any seaplanes in Massachusetts but I was sure that eventually I’d put the rating to use. As it turned out I got the rating and did some flying up there and didn’t touch another seaplane for many years.
But in August when I saw a job posting for Aviation Manager in Tavares, Florida (America’s Seaplane City), you better believe I recognized the value of my seaplane rating, even a higher value than I would have thought. I’m confident that having the rating helped me as a candidate for my job. To me this is another example, you never know what type of opportunity is out there for you so keep your options open, but most importantly stay involved in the aviation community around you.
-Fly safe, @MTElia1B9