As they progress through their careers, one of the many struggles encountered by aspiring pilots, or any professional for that matter, is where and how to find accurate and valuable information. Gathering data regarding career path decisions is fundamental to ensuring job satisfaction and quality of life. This is a key reason why both networking and mentoring are cornerstones for successful careers across all industries, and is the basis for the founding of Professional Pilots of Tomorrow, PPOT.
As I have mentioned before in this publication, one of my responsibilities with PPOT is to recruit interested pilots to join our organization. During calls to potential members, I’m afforded an opportunity to speak with pilots from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levels. Our exchanges offer insight into the widely diverse paths pilots have taken to get where they are. Their stories provide a great deal of value to the PPOT community. I often find myself becoming excited at the prospect of enrolling new applicants, not because they are another name in the ledger, but because they are another story, another experience and person with valuable insight who will join our network and share that value. I recently had the fortune of speaking with and enrolling such an applicant — Thomas Trautman.
Thomas, like many of us, worked hard to be where he is now and like some, it wasn’t always a smooth and easy process. From an early age, Thomas was passionate about aviation and fondly remembers using birthday money towards flight lessons. Unfortunately, during initial attempts to complete his private pilot’s license, it became apparent that a medical condition affecting Thomas’ eye degraded his depth perception, and eventually he was told he would never solo. Nonetheless, Thomas enrolled at Valley Forge Military Academy with hopes of becoming a pilot in the military. Regrettably, the same medical condition blocked his progress again and after one semester, he left to pursue his education at a community college in Pittsburgh. With a second class medical, Thomas enrolled in yet another flight program and eventually received his private pilot’s license. While working on his Private Pilots Rating, Thomas was faced with the challenge of proving to the FAA that he met the standards for a First Class Medical. Through perseverance, Thomas honed his ability to manage depth perception and eventually received his SODA, Statement of Demonstrated Abilities. With renewed vigor, Thomas’ next hurdle was finding the financial means to support his education and training. Over the next three years, Thomas found himself working a wide array of aviation jobs, including deicing operations in PIT, as a line service technician at multiple FBOs, ramp agent, aircraft refueling, operational control specialist at Medevac and by night, he drove for Uber. This past May, Thomas completed his single engine commercial rating, and through help from a fellow aviator at NetJets, found himself with his first paid flying job — a Part-135 float plane operator in New York.
His journey, as for many of us, is far from over. Thomas still has his Multi-Engine Commercial to complete prior to graduating. While the road ahead is still long, the small and seemingly insignificant moments along the way make the sacrifices worthwhile. Still wet behind the ears, Thomas was recently approached by a few aspiring young aviators working as ramp agents for his carrier. He was greeted with eager and energetic questions about the Caravan, how it handled, the flight deck and more. He saw himself reflected in them with their passion for aviation. For the first time, he felt a sense of accomplishment unlike any before. He was the pilot who was being looked up to.
There are quite a few words one could use to describe Thomas — dedicated, perseverant, passionate, hard-working and many more. In the end, it is Thomas’ story and experiences that are of value to PPOT for it not only sets a positive example, but make him a quality mentor to those following in his footsteps. A network and a community of pilots, Professional Pilots of Tomorrow is able to support those seeking guidance because of the participation of those with stories and experiences they are willing to share, as is Thomas. And for that, we are extremely grateful.