Perspectives: Justin Schlechter, Chautauqua Airlines
Written by Justin Schlechter   
Hey there. My name is Justin Schlechter and I am a First Officer for Chautauqua Airlines. I fly the EMB-145 and I’m based out of LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Up until now I have been incredibly lucky with the path my career has taken.

I was very similar to a lot of other pilots in that I knew I wanted to fly from a very young age. I grew up right near JFK International Airport and was amazed at all of the airliners that would come over my house at about 600ft AGL. I knew that flying an airplane was something I wanted to do. One day in my local newspaper I saw an ad for an introductory flight and I begged my parents to let me do it. Somehow I was able to convince them to let me try it and on May 19, 1996 at the age of 14 I took my very first flight in a Piper Warrior II.

I’ll never forget that flight from Republic Airport on Long Island. As soon as we took off I was hooked. Unfortunately when I started I wasn’t even old enough to solo. Over the next two years I worked at a Hallmark(a job I absolutely hated) making $5 an hour. At the time, one hour in a Warrior with a CFI was $85/hr. Since my parents thought that flying would be a passing fad, they insisted I pay for it myself. I saved up enough money for a one hour lesson about once every month or so. Slowly but surely I got more experience and a few months after my 16th birthday I soloed for the first time. That was an unbelievable experience. It was always funny to tell people that my mom had to drive me to the airport so I could fly an airplane by myself!

During the rest of high school I kept flying when I could and about half way through my senior year I got my private pilot’s license. That had to be one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. It was unreal.

During high school I decided I wanted to be an airline pilot. I looked at lots of colleges but ultimately decided on three choices: Embry-Riddle, Florida Institute of Technology, and Jacksonville University in Florida. Having grown up in the cold winters of New York I was ready for sun and sand in January. I ultimately decided that the best choice for me was Jacksonville University. The reasons I decided on JU was that all of the flight training was done by the Comair Aviation Academy(now the Delta Connection Academy). I liked the path they offered to get to the right seat of a regional. I also liked that fact that it was a young, growing program. JU offered many of the same internships that the other large Aviation Universities offered but with much less competition. I knew I wanted to do an internship and figured from a competitive standpoint, it would be easier to attain in a smaller program.

I started at JU in the Fall of 1999 and by April of 2001, I was a CFI-I. I got lucky and found my first flying job in the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college back home on Long Island at a flight school called Nassau Flyers, Inc. The owner was very gracious offering me a job knowing I would only be there for two months before I went back to school. That is how desperate flight schools were for CFI’s pre-9/11.

So there I was, 19 years old teaching 40 and 50 year olds how to fly. I flew 160 hours in exactly two months at Nassau Flyers before I went back to JU. When I got back to Jacksonville, I interviewed and got hired as a CFI at the Comair Aviation Academy.

I started in August of 2001 and just three weeks into the semester the world was changed on the morning of September 11th. I was one of the last people to be hired at the Jacksonville location for over a year. It amazed me how just two months earlier a school was so desperate to have me instruct and now practically overnight it was impossible to get a flight instructing job. The majors and regionals alike instantly stopped hiring and furloughed like mad. With no movement in the industry it was very tough to get a job as a CFI.

Had I slacked off in my training and not applied 100% to getting my ratings I would not have been able to start instructing for probably another year or so. My luck and timing were excellent.

I instructed part-time for the next year and a half while I worked on my degree but in the summer of 2002 I once again got an incredible break by being selected to be a Flight Operations Intern at Southwest Airlines. That was the opportunity of a lifetime. I worked in the flight training department. The work was typical of most interships. I did a lot of filing and such, but the benefits made every second of filing worth it. I got to use the B737-300 and B737-700 simulators numerous times. I got to jumpseat on a few flights, too. Most importantly I met tons of great people, many of whom I still speak to today. Networking in this industry is very important. After two months living in Dallas it was back to JU for my last semester.

I graduated in December of 2002 from JU and started flying full-time. Now the hard part was going to be getting highly valued multi time. I got my MEI in September of 2002 and started flying right away in the Piper Seminole. At the same time I got a lucky break by getting to fly a little bit in a Piper Chieftain. I met the assistant chief pilot at a charter outfit at our field and he let me fly all of the Part 91 legs. Once again networking helped me out with that opportunity.

In December of 2003, I finally broke the magic number of 100 multi hours. That seems to be the minimum number most places want to see you have just to maybe look at you. I sent resumes to every regional in the U.S. and the carribbean. I kept flying the twin as much as I could in the mean time.

Finally in February of 2003 I got a call inviting me to my very first airline interview. I received my interview through the academy and on February 19th, 2003 I interviewed at Comair Airlines. About 10 days later I got the news that I was hired and placed into a hiring pool.

Now, while I was sitting in the pool at Comair, another regional started to make some waves that they were going to start hiring like crazy. My good friend from high school was a first officer at Chautauqua Airlines. He told me that they had just announced a brand new codeshare with United Airlines and that I should send them a resume just for the hell of it while I waited for the call from Comair. He really sold me on Chautauqua because at the time Comair had really slowed down their hiring. I had been told I may be in the pool for over six months. Plus, I had the chance of being based at home at LGA in New York with Chautauqua.

My buddy forwarded my resume to the head of Human Resources and unbelievably I got called to interview about a week later. At the time I had about 1450 total time and 205 multi hours. On April 10th, I got the call that I had gotten hired at Chautauqua! I couldn’t believe it. I was 22 years old with offers from two of the best regional airlines in the world! It took a lot of decision making but ultimately I decided that joining Chautauqua would offer ME a better quality of life than at Comair. Comair is a great place and I have tons of friends there that love it, but unfortunately the time for me to go there wasn’t right.

I started class at Chautauqua on April 19, 2003. I was the youngest person in my class. After two intense months I made it through training and started flying the EMB-145. In addition, I even got the base of my choice. I was going back home to New York.

My reasons for attending Jacksonville University all came to fruition. I got to do an incredible internship with a Major airline. I got first class training and made it to an airline at a very young age. Most importantly, I made friends who I will know the rest of my life. JU was definetly the right choice for me.

Flying for Chautauqua has been unbelievable. Every second has lived up to my expectations. It still amazes me when I do a walkaround how big(compared to what I had been flying) the jet is. Sometimes I just stare at it and think, “I can’t believe I fly this thing!"

It took a long time and a lot of hard work but it has been well worth it. This is the best job in the world despite the negativity out there. Maybe it’s just that I’m new but I’m trying to maintain the ‘glass half full’ attitude. Chautauqua is currently interviewing and getting the brand new EMB-170 so the sky is the limit. I guess when I retire I’ll be able to see if I made the right choice. So far I know I have! Fly Safe!