Aviators Willa Brown – the first Black woman in the U.S. to earn both her pilot’s license and a commercial license – and her husband, Cornelius Coffey, a skilled maintenance technician and cofounder of the Challenger Air Pilots Association in Chicago, ran the Coffey School of Aeronautics from 1939-1945, training more than 1,000 students, many of whom would go on to become Tuskegee Airmen.
Astronauts Jan Davis and Mark Lee flew on the same mission aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992, becoming the first (and last) married couple to fly a U.S. space mission.
Dual-career couples in aviation have been around a long time, and the pressures they face as partners, and often as parents, are not exclusive to aviation professionals. But with more international trips and more women finally finding their way onto the flight decks of long-range business jets, the challenges these couples face as they climb the career ladder can often seem like a uniquely modern concern.
Meeting Both Partners’ Expectations
“It’s all about expectations,” said Kimberly Perkins, who flies Gulfstream 650s for a private organization out of Boeing Field in Seattle. “As a couple, you have to be malleable. If your expectations are not realistic, then you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. You have to be willing to be resilient and to pivot your career, to take a new trajectory if necessary.”
“As a couple, you have to be malleable. If your expectations are not realistic, then you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.”
Kimberly Perkins Gulfstream 650 Pilot
Although her aviation career started off traditionally enough – an aviation degree from Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire, flight instructing, and then flying right seat for regional carrier Air Wisconsin – the Great Recession changed everything. “I had no children, no mortgage and crippling debt to pay off, so I took a voluntary furlough from the airline and took a job flying a [Bombardier] CRJ-900 for an airline in Lagos, Nigeria.”
With two months off and one month on, Kimberly and her then-boyfriend Aaron Perkins – also a pilot who joined her in Nigeria – traveled the world for several years. Business aviation then beckoned, and Kimberly secured a position as a Bombardier Learjet 60 co-captain out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Fast forward several years and the now-married couple found themselves in Salt Lake City, where Aaron had gotten a job with the FAA and Kimberly found a Learjet 60 captain position with a Part 91 and 135 operator. The catch? She was pregnant with the couple’s first child.
Kimberly Perkins is the first to acknowledge that having children (she now has two young daughters) has been the main reason the couple has had to be flexible throughout their marriage and careers.
“Our kids have made us pivot and change,” noted Kimberly. She is also a strong believer in gender equity in the aviation industry and thinks that the notion of an “ideal pilot” – someone with flexibility, usually because of a supportive, stay-at-home partner – needs to be reexamined.
Both Kimberly and Aaron Perkins felt a strong pull to Seattle and relocated their family there in 2013 then Kimberly got a job flying for Vulcan. Aaron was able to get a flying position at the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group.
“We pretty much decided that Aaron was going to have the ‘stable’ job with the stable schedule,” said Kimberly, who is actively working to make the industry more inclusive for caregivers.
Being part of a couple with children is not slowing her down: Kimberly has started a non-profit organization, Aviation for Humanity, and wants to get her PhD.
“It’s all about finding the positivity in the pivots,” she said.
Getting the Work/Life Balance Right
Catrina and Paul Capistrant acknowledge that they are typical millennials.
“Work is a part of your lifestyle,” avers Paul. “We try and keep a balance between our personal goals, professional goals, financial goals, fitness goals and the like.”
“We try to position ourselves so that we have options,” agrees Catrina. “For each career move we have made, we discuss the impact it will have on our lifestyle and how it will affect us as a couple.”
“We try and keep a balance between our personal goals, professional goals, financial goals, fitness goals and the like.”
Paul Capistrant Assistant Chief Pilot, Solairus Aviation
For years, the Capistrants moved around based on who got the best job, first to Cleveland for a Part 91 job flying Dassault Falcon 900s for Catrina (Paul subsequently landed a good flying job there, too), then to Chicago, then ultimately to the San Francisco Bay area, where Catrina is now assistant chief pilot with a Fortune 150 company and Paul is assistant chief pilot at Solairus Aviation in Petaluma, helping manage the company’s 220 aircraft and 600 pilots.
“You have to be honest with yourself about where you want to be,” noted Catrina. “We literally got out the map as we focused on our job searches. We also had our [own personal] goals: I wanted to fly Gulfstreams internationally, and Paul wanted to get more into leadership and administrative roles,” declared Catrina. “Now we are doing both.”
The couple is adjusting well to life with a baby daughter, especially with being able to spend much more time at home because of COVID-19.
“We don’t think in terms of whether it’s his turn or my turn,” said Catrina. “We ask, is it good for us?”
Jennifer Castro is an international captain flying Gulfstream 650s for a Fortune 150 company out of Southern California. Her husband Ian is a Boeing 737 captain for American Airlines currently commuting to New York. The couple, who live in the San Diego area with their two children, met in 1998 when they were both flying for American Eagle in the Caribbean. Occasionally since then, one of them has commuted long distances for their flying job.
“We focus on quality of life. What has worked well for us is that Ian’s schedule with the airlines is more structured and he knows it in advance. Mine is more fluid.”
Jennifer Castro Gulfstream 650 Pilot for a Fortune 150 Company
“We focus on quality of life,” said Jennifer Castro. “What has worked well for us is that Ian’s schedule with the airlines is more structured and he knows it in advance. Mine is more fluid.”
Jennifer loves business flying, which she has been doing for 19 years since she was furloughed from United Airlines after 9/11.
“I would never have said to him, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ Maybe he would have been a captain a little earlier, but it just worked out that way. He has always supported my career.”
The Castros have solved the childcare issue of two-pilot parents with help from nannies, and Jennifer is pleased that her children think that their parents’ jobs are equally important.
“I have been able to be present for them, after school and driving to sports and tournaments. I like that they have time alone with Ian when I travel, I think that it strengthens their bond.”
Personal Choices, No Regrets
Personal Choices, No Regrets
Delta Air Lines captain Berty Damato probably took a longer road than many to get to the left seat of his airline’s Airbus A320s, but he has no regrets. Married for more than 20 years to Jo Damato, CAM, NBAA’s vice president of educational strategy and workforce development, Berty – who knew since seventh grade that he wanted to fly for a living – has opted for the scheduling flexibility of taking more “junior” trips, even if in the right seat.
“My ability to adjust to Jo’s busy travel schedule has been important. It’s always been about flexibility and support from our employers.”
Berty Damato Captain, Delta Air Lines
“My ability to adjust to Jo’s busy travel schedule has been important,” said Berty. “It’s always been about flexibility and support from our employers.”
Jo agreed, noting that NBAA was very supportive about virtual work when the Damatos decided to move to New Jersey so that Berty could be within driving distance of his New York base and the family could be near relatives to help with childcare for the couple’s two sons. Jo can easily take a train to NBAA headquarters in Washington, DC when needed.
“We made the decision early on that one of us should always be here when the kids get off the school bus, regardless if it’s Berty or me,” said Jo. “Over the years, we have always figured out how to do just that. We call this person the ‘at-home parent,’ and our boys have never known anything different.”