Jan. 18, 2022
David Keys remembers sitting at a large table at NBAA headquarters with several others on the Domestic Operations Committee, going through papers and manually matching some volunteer mentors with possible mentees for the launch of NBAA’s Mentoring Program just four years ago.
Keys, a former chair and current member of the committee, along with several others, had advocated for a mentoring program and met regularly for a number of months to make it a reality.
“I think we had about 20 mentors and 20 mentees that first year,” remembers Keys. “I am blown away by how it’s taken off.”
Taken off it has, with more than 600 participants in the current year’s program, which began in September 2021 and will extend through May 2022.
“We’ve had 200% growth in the past two years alone,” noted Hunter Watson, NBAA operations manager and administrator of the program. Watson has enhanced the application process to include more detail, such as particular areas of interest and affiliations with organizations and associations, to better match mentees with mentors and foster more diversity.
Mentoring Benefits Mentors, Not Just Mentees
According to Keys, mentoring is rewarding not just for the mentee, but for the mentor as well.
“Certainly, it is always satisfying when you yourself give back,” he said. “But you also get [the mentee’s] freshness and ideas, and it helps you as a mentor stay in touch with the industry, new technologies and gain perspective on where these young people are coming from.”
Stacy Sheard, Fanatics Helicopter captain/EJM, feels similarly to Keys.
“Mentoring actually strengthens your own network and fosters strong connections,” said Sheard, who has had numerous mentees with various programs, including NBAA’s. “It is also fulfilling to give advice that will make everyone successful and help do the right thing in our industry.” Some of Sheard’s mentees are now mentoring others, which she finds very rewarding. “It’s a self-sustaining cycle,” she said.
A former military rotary-wing pilot, Sheard currently flies in challenging airspace on the East Coast, after having had a variety of flying jobs including air ambulance, news, offshore utilities, and more.
“When I got out of the military, there were no mentorships, and I had no guidance,” she said. “I had to figure it all out on my own. So, I thought, now that I know how it works, I want to help people out and give back to them. It’s so easy for me to do that now.”
Sheard, a current board member and past board chair of the Helicopter Association International (HAI), helped HAI develop, launch and implement workshops on transitioning from the military to civilian careers, after a presentation she gave years ago turned out to be highly popular. Networking and help with resume writing is part of the program, which is held the day before HAI’s annual Heli-Expo convention and attracts dozens of willing mentors, as well as hundreds of potential mentees – some of whom are maintenance technicians or work in the UAS space.
“I want to give everyone the knowledge they need to succeed,” said Sheard. “If I can’t help them, or if I find out their specific interest area, I can refer them to someone who is doing what they want to do.”
Mentoring Without a Formal Program
At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott (ERAU), college officials have partnered with Boeing and Honeywell to provide mentors for their students, primarily juniors in the university’s College of Engineering.
“It’s a great way for these companies to test the students and recruit them for their pipeline,” says Anne Boettcher, director of ERAU’s Undergraduate Research Institute and Honors Program. The Honeywell program is for a full academic year, while the Boeing mentorship is for the summer and is usually a virtual mentorship.
Without the staff resources to support its own alumni-based or industry-based mentoring effort, ERAU officials are finding that pairing with companies that already have their own program is effective.
“We see the advantage of partnering with existing programs,” says Boettcher. “Oftentimes, alumni at these companies are the ones to step up and agree to be mentors.”
ERAU will be participating in next year’s NBAA Mentoring Program. The feedback from students currently being mentored through Honeywell and Boeing is encouraging.
“It’s quite positive,” says Boettcher. “We have some students being mentored intensely, as much as 1.5 to two hours a week.”
Michelle Day, ERAU director of alumni engagement for the western region, likes to connect students with alumni and others in the aviation industry who can help guide them, even if it’s not a formal mentoring program.
“I learn a lot on my travels and love to share things back on campus,” says Day. “I can see the light in the students’ eyes when they make the connection between their studies and a career.”
Unintentional Mentoring Helps Launch an Aviation Career
Aaron White made a couple hundred phone calls, sent at least as many emails, researched and wrote a white paper about business aviation in the Nashville, TN area, and networked like crazy over a period of many months in his effort to break into business aviation.
“I have always been passionate about aviation, but it was always too expensive for me to get into an aviation college or learn to fly,” said White. After receiving a hospitality and tourism degree from the University of South Alabama, he moved to Nashville and started bussing tables to pay his bills.
An acknowledged master networker, one thing led to another and White then worked for a recruiting company (“I learned the art of cold calling,” he says) and then took a job in business development for a construction software company. All the while, White knew he wanted to be in aviation, and he started cold-calling local aviation companies in the Nashville area – even though he had zero aviation experience.
“I literally called everybody,” said White, who ended up on the phone with an airport business executive who suggested he look into business aviation.
“I asked him, ‘What is that?’ and he explained it to me,” laughed White. White found NetJets first on his Google search for business aviation, and somehow – he acknowledges he is good at researching and speaking with admins – ended up on the phone with Adam Johnson, chair and CEO of NetJets.
“He was just as surprised as I was that I had gotten through to him,” remembers White. “He said, ‘Well, you got here somehow, I’ll give you some time,’ and he was very polite and encouraging. He said to send him my resume but acknowledged that I would need some experience.”
Each call that White made got him a little more information and knowledge about the industry, and he found many people in business aviation who were willing to try and help him out, including NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen and other association staffers who he reached by phone.
“I made at least 200 calls and had 26 interviews,” said White. “I didn’t have experience to provide, but they could see my passion and how badly I wanted to be in aviation. They helped me with my resume and provided other contacts for me. I felt that they were unofficial mentors – and I had lots of them.”
Ultimately, he landed a position as an aircraft research analyst with an aircraft sales, charter and management company that was willing to take a chance on an eager young person. The 26-year-old has since moved up to be director of sales for MRO Insider and is pursuing his private pilot certificate.
But he never neglects to stay in touch with his contacts. He credits the many individuals who helped mentor him, directly or indirectly, and noted that “mentoring and relationships are huge to me.” In fact, White currently has two mentors as part of the NBAA program.