Careers in Aviation & Aerospace
What is your role within the aviation and/or aerospace industry?
I am the Air Traffic Control/General Aviation (ATC/GA) Desk Specialist for Flight Options, LLC. Flight Options is one of the nation’s leading fractional jet ownership companies, providing private air travel to individuals and corporations that have purchased blocks of flight time in our fleet of nearly 200 aircraft. We cater primarily to the wealthiest 1% of the population, and offer several purchase and lease options. Based on the number of aircraft we operate and the number of people we employ, we are larger than many regional and commuter airlines.
As a major player in the private aviation industry, we provide our customers a premium service. Part of that service includes identifying any problems that may prevent our aircraft from flying into and out of the airports our passengers wish to use. That’s where I come in. I am the Flight Options liaison to the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC) in Washington, DC. I monitor the status of our 50 most visited airports and special use airports on a daily basis by researching Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs), airport advisories, and published Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs). During special events (like the Super Bowl), periods of high demand (like Thanksgiving weekend), or when a natural disaster strikes (such as a hurricane), I check airport status several times throughout the day. If an airport is, or will be closed, I research the reason, times and dates of the closure, and which of our flights may be affected or delayed. I advise the operational groups within the company so that notification and alternate arrangements can be made with our owners.
Occasionally, airports will implement Ground Delay Programs or Ground Stops which may prevent our owners from getting to their desired destination in a timely manner. These programs are usually put into place because of bad weather near an airport or on the flight routes surrounding an airport. Thunderstorms, snow storms, or even fog can all be severe enough to prevent a flight from taking off and landing safely. The programs remain in effect until flights into and out of the airport can be safely resumed. In addition to severe weather, delay programs can also be initiated when the airspace becomes too congested to accept more airplanes. Through the National Business Aircraft Association’s (NBAA’s) General Aviation Desk at the ATCSCC, I coordinate departure times for our aircraft caught in the Ground Delay Programs or Ground Stops.
In addition to monitoring airport status and delay programs, I am also responsible for managing airport reservations, or “slot”, programs at high traffic airports. Throughout the year, there are events, like the Super Bowl, that several people from across the country attend. To control the traffic flow into and out of airports near these events, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has developed Special Traffic Management Programs (STMP). If a STMP is in effect at an airport, an airplane cannot land (or take-off in some cases) without a reservation, or “slot,” number for a designated time. It’s part of my job to ensure we have the appropriate slots for each trip we have scheduled into and out of these airports during special events.
The most important part of my job is communicating issues to other operational departments within my company in a timely fashion to ensure our customers receive the service they pay for and expect.
What challenges helped shape your success?
During my senior year in high school, several universities tried to recruit me to play volleyball, with many of them offering scholarships. However, most of those colleges did not offer the aviation programs for which I was searching. I was faced with the incredibly difficult decision to either play my favorite sport in college and pursue a career in medicine, or follow my dream to fly.
I chose to attend Purdue University, and was accepted into their highly selective professional pilot program. When I received my acceptance letter, I was thrilled to be a part of such a prestigious institution. It wasn’t until I calculated the costs of the yearly out of state tuition & fees for the flight program that I realized being a pilot was not in my immediate future. I changed my major to Aviation Administration, specializing in airline management. My focus shifted from flying the airplanes to managing the companies & crews that operated them.
When I graduated from Purdue, aside from my degree, I had no prior aviation experience, and I worried that I would not be able to find a job in my chosen field. I did not have a dispatch license, an A&P certificate, or a pilot’s license and I was just a few classes short of the requirements for Air Traffic Control. Throughout college, I worked in retail management and before I found the position at Flight Options, I considered staying in retail by accepting a promotion as a store manager in Indianapolis. I enjoyed retail, but my heart was definitely not in it. I love airplanes and I knew that if I wanted to be happy, I would have to find something within the aviation industry. I sent my resume to what seemed like hundreds of flight departments, charter companies and airlines, and finally found a fit with Flight Options.
What individuals or events influenced your career choices?
My dad worked on the electronics/avionics of C-130 aircraft in the US Air Force, and we lived near an airbase when I was growing up. Every time a C-130 would fly over, my dad would pull me outside, point towards that enormous mass of machinery droning through the sky and say, “Look! I used to work on those!” When I was about 10 years old, a family friend took me up on my first airplane ride in a Cessna 172. I was hooked. After seeing the world below me & feeling the independence of soaring through the clouds, I knew that I was born to fly.
At Purdue, several aviation alumni were invited to speak to our classes about their backgrounds, experience and careers. The alum who worked for Dassault Falcon Jet selling aircraft interested me the most. I narrowed my career path even further, and chose Flight Options because of the potential to sell aircraft for the company.
What role do skills in math, science, engineering, and technology play in supporting your career choice?
Science and technology are incredibly important for nearly any career in the aviation industry. Since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed science and math classes because of the challenge they present. It is incredibly satisfying to finally “get” a concept that I may have struggled to figure out. Most of the aptitude tests I took in high school reported that I should pursue a career in engineering or a technology related field, which further encouraged me to work in aviation.
In Air Traffic Control, one must be able to visualize airspace in a 3-dimensional way, taking into consideration every aircraft’s size, speed, and altitude. Information learned in physics, trigonometry and geometry helps you create that picture in your mind. For my aviation management degree, I took not only the basic physics, calculus, computer science and statistics classes, but also classes in aircraft systems, aircraft dispatching, air traffic control, and atmospheric sciences. Knowing how an aircraft physically works is essential to any aviation related field.
In my current position, understanding weather and atmospheric sciences helps me determine locations around the country which may experience delays. Being aware of potential storm impacts, such as forecasted hurricane landfall sites, helps us plan where and when to move our aircraft to prevent damage.
What activities do you suggest for young children or young adults to prepare them for careers in aviation or aerospace?
Actively participate & pay attention in your classes. Get your degree or pursue a career in the military. The education, experience, discipline and professional decorum learned in college or the military cannot be duplicated by entering the workforce immediately upon graduating from high school. And if you haven’t yet determined your career, don’t worry about it. A majority of collegiate freshmen change their educational majors an average of 3 times prior to graduating.
Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can in high school, college and beyond. In high school, attend career fairs, seminars, summer camps – anything you can find to help you whittle down your career choices. While in college, join aviation related organizations, such as Alpha Eta Rho, American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), NBAA, etc. Membership in these organizations offers priceless networking opportunities as well as various social activities. You can continue to be a member in several of these organizations even after graduation, keeping those connections in tact.
Don’t be afraid to ask for financial assistance. There are hundreds of scholarships, grants and loans available, with dozens of them especially for those wishing to pursue careers in aviation. For starters, take a look at NBAA’s website
Most importantly, choose a career that makes you happy and challenges your mind. You will truly excel when you have a passion for your work. I was extremely fortunate to be able to follow my passion. Dream big!
Julianna Smith – Flight Options, LLC
Other Museum Aviation