An April 2019 exchange on the Instagram account @flymechanics captures the increasingly important role social media plays in growing the aviation workforce.
In the image, Wilson Otero, the founder of FlyMechanics, stands over a suspended engine, tinkering away above a caption that said, “2013 – Helping a local pilot with an engine change…. Today is the future you created yesterday.” In the 22 comments below the image, which include congratulations and guesses about the aircraft’s make, one of the account’s 8,860 followers chimes in: “Currently working on my A&P!” followed by, “Me, too!”
Long before everyone was thrust into pandemic-driven improvisation, the online world had already become the focal point of modern communication. But especially now, the potential of digital communities to facilitate meaningful connections – and practically speaking, their usefulness in building the business aviation workforce of the future – will only increase.
“I just had somebody reach out to me saying, ‘Because of what you’re doing and me having that exposure to it, I got my A&P license,’” said Otero, who has built a loyal following through more than 1,000 posts showcasing the expertise of business aviation maintenance technicians.
FlyMechanics is an example of the many online communities that are bringing aviation people around the world together. Covering a wide range of interests – including career networks like flight attendant hub Flightess, social movements like Fly For The Culture, and local groups like Central Iowa Pilots – these groups connect today’s professionals while showcasing the industry to the next generation.
“Young people today can experience an aviation career just by hitting the ‘follow’ button,” said Courtland Savage, founder and CEO of Fly for the Culture. “It’s critical that we’re putting our stories out there to reach them.”
What lessons can the creators and contributors to these fast-growing communities teach the business aviation industry about attracting the skilled professionals of the future?
“I have people reach out to me from all across the world telling me they’re thinking about becoming an aircraft mechanic. I’m able to share with them how much opportunity there is in this industry right now.”
Wilson Otero Founder, Fly Mechanics
“What digital platforms have done for business aviation is show young people that there are infinite numbers of pathways to build your own career here,” said Jo Damato, NBAA’s vice president of educational strategy and workforce.
For Gen Z, described in a McKinsey study as people who “value individual expression,” the diverse options and relative uniqueness of a business aviation career can be appealing.
Aviation influencer testimonies are particularly potent on the hottest apps for young people: YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. On these visually oriented platforms, popular aviators like “Pilot Pete” and brands like FlyMechanics paint a compelling picture of a career that enables individuals to stand out.
“I have people reach out to me from all across the world who are thinking about becoming an aircraft mechanic,” said Otero. “I’m able to share with them how much opportunity there is in this industry right now.”
Taking advantage of aviation’s exciting imagery and interesting career opportunities, these influencers are helping shine a light on the possibilities of an aviation life.
“On social media, it’s less about exact formulas to success and more about inspiring people through stories,” noted Damato. “Kids today will see a number of influencers sharing their journeys, and they’ll meld those elements into creating their own plan.”
Representation, Compassion Important
When it comes to recruiting people of diverse backgrounds into aviation, “younger people must see it to believe it,” said Savage.
A first officer for a regional airline, Savage launched Fly for the Culture in 2018 to highlight Black aviators across all segments of aviation. It has since grown to more than 12,000 followers and has received coverage from outlets like CNN – attention that helps Savage pursue his goal of inspiring young people to explore aviation careers.
“I never thought about becoming a pilot because I never saw anybody who looked like me flying,” said Savage, whose organization coordinates free flights for young people across the country. “Even now, we get messages from people who really need that pick-me-up, because it can be tough sometimes being one of the only minorities in training or at the airport.”
In addition to being more cognizant of the need for diversity and inclusion in the workforce, younger generations are also more likely to care about joining an industry where they feel supported in their mental health. A 2019 Mind Share Partners study found that half of millennials and 75% of GenZers had voluntarily or involuntarily left a job for mental health reasons.
These important discussion topics are finding a home on digital aviation communities like Facebook’s Aviation Wellness Community. Becoming a more inclusive industry means “talking about substance abuse, depression, anxiety, stress and fatigue,” says its founder Christina Brown, a flight attendant who wanted to create a nonjudgmental place for aviators to share their trying times and triumphs.
Nas Lewis likewise founded th|AIR|apy to provide an outlet for flight attendants dealing with a sometimes isolating career. It’s become an invaluable tool for many dealing with the stress generated by the pandemic.
“Especially at a time like this, with so much job [security] concern, it’s important for people to have places to receive support and have someone tell them they’re going to be okay,” said Lewis.
“Especially at a time like this, with so much job [security] concern, it’s important for people to have a place to just receive support and have someone just tell them they're going to be okay.”
Nas Lewis Founder, th|AIR|apy
Every Interaction Can Matter
Online connections may seem ephemeral, but you never know the impact a message, post or video can have on someone.
“It’s gratifying going to recurrent training and meeting people in class who say, ‘Hey, I watched one of your videos when I was going through initial training and that really helped me out,’” said Jean Denis Marcellin, a Canadian-based pilot and creator of the “Global Life” YouTube channel.
In more than 50 videos, Marcellin mixes flight footage and operational how-to instruction into compelling glimpses of a business aviation pilot’s career. Highly watchable, these videos serve an important function that anyone with a camera can replicate – ensuring business aviation has a presence on YouTube’s popular aviation scene.
Social media goals don’t need to be globally ambitious to make a difference in people’s lives. On his 800-member strong Facebook group, Central Iowa Pilots, Nick Lambert runs a vibrant community that plans events, shares job opportunities and has developed many genuine connections.
Lambert, who is chief pilot for Casey’s General Stores, Inc., has nurtured the social space for five years by providing a welcoming environment. His suggestions for starting and maintaining an aviation community? Find your niche and be consistent with posting content.
“You certainly want organic engagement when it comes to content, but it definitely helps to mix things up with a top-down approach sometimes,” he said, pointing to an annual photo contest as an example of content that helps foster a sense of community.
Fly for the Culture’s Savage recommends investing time into the less glamorous aspects of growing a community, including trying to reply to all messages you receive and preparing a steady stream of content in advance.
Build Camaraderie, Welcoming Newcomers
Jamie Gibson launched Flightess in 2018, with a goal of creating an online home for her fellow business aviation flight attendants to share knowledge and connect with colleagues.
The passionate community now includes more than 12,000 Instagram followers who read articles, share tips and even participate in a recently launched mentorship program featuring flight attendants from across the world.
“It’s been a miraculous thing to see this community grow like it has,” said Gibson. “Nothing is more rewarding than receiving messages that say, ‘I nailed my interview because of what I learned from people here.’”
It’s this ability to positively impact lives that most excite online creators and contributors. Their forums provide aviation pros places to share their career interests, celebrate the good times and vent about challenges – all while offering newcomers a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of normal people who work in an extraordinary profession.
“If we can give people a taste of our industry, they’re never going to want to do anything else,” said Gibson. “There’s a real magic in aviation that gets people addicted to the lifestyle.”