Written by Jon Reed   

I had the chance a few weeks ago to sit down with Jeff Peterson, a CFI who was recently hired with SkyWest and is currently in ground school for a position on the Brasilia EMB-120.

Jeff started his training in October of 1997 flying a Cessna 152 part time while he was attending college. He got his four-year degree in business management and in March 2000 interviewed with Hillsboro Aviation and got his first aviation job as a CFI.

What would you say was the biggest factor in helping you get your first job in aviation?

"Definitely the fact that I did all my training at the school where I ended up working was a big bonus. It allowed them to see what kind of student I was and in turn what kind of instructor I was going to be. I knew I wanted to stay close to my friends and family and I knew as well that this was the school where I wanted to instruct. When I started I just had my initial CFI and took my time getting my CFII and MEI. I wanted to build some experience
first from the right seat before transitioning, which I think worked out well."

What was the best part about instructing?

"Being with a student during highs and lows, incredible triumphs and valleys. When you are instructing you develop life long ties to your students. To be a part of that and to come out of it at the end with really strong friendships locally and internationally was the best part for me."

The low points?

"The patience of sitting through and letting them make the mistakes that you know they are going to make, and not jumping in, which is totally necessary if they are going to learn. But it takes a lot of work to keep that level of patience."

Did you do anything else during your initial time instructing?

"I flew traffic watch as a substitute, which was really a lot of fun and good way to see other sides of flying."

What happened next?

"Well I started sending out resumes and got a call from Continental Express with about 900TT and 115 Multi during summer 2001. It was incredible. In ground school, it was the most intense study period of my life up to that point. For three weeks straight, which doesn't sound very long, but it seemed like it, we would all study from the time we got up, go to class 8 to 5 and then come home and study until we went to sleep. A 30-minute break to eat dinner, but that was about it. I need at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night, some people stayed up all night and never really slept, but for me, being rested was as important as knowing the material."

And then the events of September 11th unfolded and you along with everyone were deeply affected.

"Yeah, we got a call on the 15th and received a two-week notice. It was a hard time, for everyone. We were trying to cope with what happened but also figure out what to do next. Everyone was scrambling to try to call anyplace to get a job. I still didn't meet minimums at most places so I called Hillsboro Aviation and luckily they hired me back. It was really hard to fulfill your dreams and be there, so close and then have it taken away. I realized that it was up to me to make the best of it, so luckily I quickly got over it. I started doing things to make sure that I kept up my skills yet also keep things interesting. I started teaching ground schools at the local community college and also volunteering to teach elementary students how to read. That is a funny story on its own, the fact that I can teach someone how to fly but when I showed up to volunteer they gave me a book and said, "Here, teach him how to read..." I had never really thought about it before, it took me a while to get the hang of it, but it was a great experience."

So what was going on career wise during this time?

"Well, I got to attend a referral career fair with SkyWest in Portland and took their aptitude test. My dream has always been to fly for SkyWest and despite everything that happened I felt really great that I now had the possibility of flying for them. That was in the spring of this year and I was hoping for the best as I waited for a call. In the meantime I got hired as a part-time reserve pilot on a twin commander with a 135-air ambulance company flying on the field. It was a great experience and although I had signed a training contract, they were really great about letting me go when I got the call from SkyWest."

What would you say was the biggest difference from being in a 121 carrier and a 135 operation?

"The biggest factor is with the 135 you know everyone. All the pilots, the director, the chief pilot, director of maintenance, you do the passenger briefings all the way to cleaning the airplane. I think the big question for everyone over there was 'how is this person going to be to work with?' Since it is such a tight community fitting in is critical. At Continental Express your exposure to other people was much more limited as well as your responsibilities."

Well Jeff lets see you have had four interviews followed by four job offers. What is your secret?

" I really don't know! I never thought of it like that. I guess the biggest thing was just studying hard and good preparation. When I first started flying I used to go to PDX and grab any pilot I saw walking through the concourse to ask them questions I had about flying. As far as preparing for the interviews I would hit the Regs, AIM, systems of the airplane that you are most current in, Jepp charts and a lot of time in the 'sim'. I guess for the interview my attitude is that the number one thing is that I present an honest reflection of who I am. If I am fake and try to use canned answers I am not only doing a disservice to the company but myself as well. Just like a relationship, you can fake it for a while but then it catches up to you. You really just have to be yourself and see if it will be a good match."

"Another bit of advice is definitely having a sense of humor; smile a lot and a positive attitude. I always tried to joke around a bit during the interview if it was appropriate."

"I would say that there are really no tricks, just be yourself, let them know who you are and thank them when you are finished with the interview. About the only other thing is make sure you get a haircut at least a week in advance! (Just in case you get a really bad one!)"

What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make to get where you are today?

"Well, I guess compared to a lot of my friends I have really led a unextravagent life. I lived at home, sacrificed a lot of activities, obviously my main focus was flying and everything else had to come second. I had times when I doubted myself, whether I was doing the right thing and even considered getting out of flying, but it was just that, a passing consideration. I know that this is what I am meant to do, and despite all the sacrifices I could never give it up."

What got you through the tough times?

"Faith, family and a deep love of aviation. I know that there is a plan for me and every time I look up and see the contrails pass overhead, I smile and know that I will be there someday soon."

Any favorite quotes?

"Definitely. It is from Charles Lindberg and goes something like 'Science, Freedom, Beauty, Adventure. Aviation combined all the elements I love.'"

What advice you have for those of us following in your footsteps?

"Focus on your Dream! Don't lose sight of that. It takes a lot of studying and sacrifice, but you can do it. Get in touch with a good group of pilots and try to put yourself in the right place. The aviation community is a very small place so do your best to get to know as many people as you can, make a good name for yourself and be careful not to burn any bridges. Just don't get discouraged, believe in yourself and it will happen!"

Thank you very much Jeff and we will look forward to seeing you on SkyWest and hopefully maybe even one of us will slide into you FO spot when you upgrade to Captain!

Fly Safe.
Jon Reed