By design or by chance, the paths that people have taken to a career in business aviation are diverse, and no one way is the right way. The stories of the four young people profiled here demonstrate just a few of the many different paths that can lead to a career in the industry.
What stands out in these stories, however, is the willingness of others in the industry to mentor or teach their younger colleagues, and the passion that everyone in aviation has for their job. People may come from different backgrounds and education, but once they land in business aviation, they are usually there to stay. As flight attendant Natasha Gardner says, “I can’t believe they pay us to do this.”
Business Aircraft Cabin Attendant
When Natasha Gardner was a kid, she told herself that if she ever had a job that paid her to travel, she would be the happiest person in the world.
Fast forward to the present, and Gardner still has to pinch herself that she has been paid to travel, as a flight attendant for Visa, Inc. for the past seven years. She is now working for Visa on the administrative side, but still does contract flying. “Cabin attending is my dream job,” she said. “Sometimes I can’t believe that they pay us to do this.”
Gardner’s path to flying for Visa was not a straight line, however, and she encourages people looking to get into the business aviation industry to have confidence in themselves.
“I used to limit myself,” she said, noting that she was working in a bookstore in the East Bay area of San Francisco when, by chance, a colleague suggested that she apply for a job at Livermore Municipal Airport.
Although doubtful that she had any chance in getting the airport job, Gardner did get hired – and spent the next seven years at Attitude Aviation, an aerobatic flight school. Rising from an administrative position to operations manager, Gardner eventually was responsible for managing 40 aircraft, all the while gaining a passion for aviation. “I’ll do whatever it takes to stay around airplanes,” she declared.
With the significant aviation experience she had acquired, Gardner was hired by Chevron’s flight department, performing administrative and accounts payable duties. “But I still had a lot of self-doubt,” said Gardner.
She then pursued an opportunity to work in administration and accounts payable at Visa’s flight department at Oakland International Airport. The lead flight attendant at the time soon started mentoring her and taught Gardner “everything I needed to know” to become a cabin attendant for Visa.
Although Gardner knows she was fortunate to be mentored on the job, she reminds others to “be flexible, and to provide value wherever needed.”
She also notes that she is in her dream job even without a college degree. “When you are passionate about what you do, people in this industry jump to help you,” said Gardner.
Pilot, Entrepreneur, Student
Here’s how Trevor Simoneau’s LinkedIn profile begins:
“Trevor is a pilot, entrepreneur, and student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University majoring in aeronautics and minoring in aviation law. At Embry-Riddle, he is an undergraduate research assistant and is a member of the College of Aviation Dean’s Student Advisory Board. His research interests include aviation and unmanned aircraft systems law, with a particular emphasis on advanced air mobility and the development of electric airplane law.
“He is the founder and CEO of the aviation apparel company Chart it All, a company Trevor created at age 11 to fund flight training and ultimately college. Trevor is a co-founder and the former president of Aviation Explorers 747 at Embry-Riddle…. Trevor works to inspire students from all backgrounds to pursue aviation careers. He volunteers with the Commemorative Air Force, EAA Young Eagles and American Aero Services.”
If this all sounds like a lot packed into a young lifetime, you’re right. Simoneau is not your average college student.
Simoneau’s current path to a career in aviation might seem like a straight line, but the need to fund his flying and college costs necessitated that he become a businessperson as well. A “discovery flight” for his 10th birthday convinced him that he wanted to be in aviation, but when he realized the expense involved, he founded Chart it All (with the help of his mother), which makes custom aeronautical chart apparel and gifts. Between his business and scholarships, Simoneau is enrolled at Embry-Riddle, and even though he is only a sophomore, he’s already looking ahead at law schools.
By the way, did we mention that Simoneau is only 18 years old?
Engineering Manager, Systems, Gogo Business Aviation
Trevor Steffensen grew up in rural North Dakota and didn’t fly in an airplane until he was in college. No one in his family was in the aviation business, and as an electrical engineer by training, he hadn’t given any thought to working in the aviation industry until one day he received a career-changing phone call from a former college classmate.
“He was working at Rockwell Collins, and he was excited to tell me all about what he was doing as a systems engineer involved with developing and certifying avionics,” recalls Steffensen. “That sounded like a good alignment with my own interests as well.”
One thing led to another, and Steffensen joined Rockwell Collins, working on the many stages of the avionics systems life cycle in the development of avionics display systems for commercial aircraft.
A stint at Avidyne followed, where he was the systems lead for the NextGen Avionics Navigation System in charge of all aspects of the certification process.
After another stint back at Rockwell Collins, Steffensen landed at Gogo Business Aviation, where, after more than five years with the company, he now manages the systems engineering team, designing Gogo’s airborne and ground based systems, including 5G air-to-ground networks, satcom, RF technologies, and in-cabin connectivity.
“I love the fast pace and innovation of business aviation products,” said Steffensen. “I feel like things move slower on the commercial side.”
Having an electrical engineering degree certainly contributed to his career success, but Steffensen notes that a lot of the learning in his field happens on the job.
“Stay curious, and don’t rush through the foundations of your training. This industry is passionate about teaching!”
Principal Aircraft Interior Designer & Business Development Analyst, Exosonic, Inc.
Stephanie Werner is the first to acknowledge that if it weren’t for a college summer internship at Gulfstream Aerospace, she probably would be designing interiors for hospitality companies or other commercial ventures.
Years later, however, as the principal aircraft interior designer and business development analyst for Exosonic, Inc., her responsibilities include the design of cabin interiors for the start-up company’s supersonic jets, which will eventually include both head-of-state transports as well as passenger aircraft.
“If it weren’t for the opportunity at Gulfstream, I doubt I would be working in the business aviation industry,” said Werner, who found the internship by chance. “I knew very little about business aviation, but what I learned that summer enamored me to the industry. There are so many things that you just don’t learn in school.”
The Washington state native had to pack her bags and move to Savannah, GA for the summer, where she supported the design and completion teams working on G450s, G550s and G650s. Little did she know at the time that the move would permanently alter her career path.
The following summer, Werner interned at Southwest Airlines’ corporate facility, and a master’s degree in interior design and a brief stint designing for luxury hospitality interiors followed.
“My time in hospitality was a great learning opportunity, but I was hoping to get back into aircraft interior design,” said Werner.
Werner’s Gulfstream experience paid off when she was hired by GDC Technics, where she was the lead project designer for VVIP and head-of-state widebody business aircraft.
At Exosonic, her current responsibilities go beyond the exciting challenge of leading supersonic aircraft interior design, from inception to delivery. With her business aviation expertise, Werner is also involved in marketing and business development.
Her advice to others just starting out? ”View every engagement as an opportunity to learn, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice from someone who has walked the path you’re interested in.”