E. Blair Johns II graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in December 1998 with a degree in Aeronautical Science. Currently, he works at Envoy (formerly known as American Eagle Airlines) as a commercial pilot.
What are the highlights of your career so far?
The path I took to build my flight hours, experience and qualifications opened some unexpected windows into an adventure I had not seen coming.
Flight instructing and getting to fly C402 at Ocean Wings in Nantucket not only brought about an adventure as to where I was flying but also to where I was living. Had I anticipated where I would lay my head at night I believe I would have looked elsewhere. From a hostel to a hanger office and eventually a bedroom in a small house, made for meeting great friends along the way, and certainly filled that adventure craving I so anticipated from a career in aviation.
Eastern Air Charter stepped it up a bit as far as the techniques of flying my first turboprop. The Cheyenne II was the perfect fit to not only fly passengers expeditiously to their destinations, but we flew the Cheyenne at all hours of the night as a transport for organ bank donor flying. We would get called out at night as a reserve crew might, and quickly get the aircraft prepped for the medical transport. We would fly to a city, pick up a team of surgeons, and fly to another city where a deceased organ donor was operated on by the surgeons. Once the surgeons were finished with the operation, we would then take them to another city, where a patient in need was urgently waiting for the organ and surgeon team we flew back with us.
This type of flight operation helped me prepare for the airline world of sometimes complex yet rewarding commercial transport. Through my time at American Eagle, now Envoy, I have been challenged many times and have felt as though each is a valuable learning experience. Nothing can drive home a lesson better than being thrown into a situation with little warning and allowing your training to instinctively take over. From inflight emergencies to customer anomalies on the ground, at the airline, the training happens as much on the line as at the training academy. It is a true sense of satisfaction when you can look back at a safely completed flight and talk over the whole situation with your fellow crew members about what went well and what you all might want to improve on. It is surely a skill refining exercise to go through these unexpected situations.
How has your Embry-Riddle degree opened doors for you?
One of the first memories which come to mind about my time at Embry-Riddle are the friends and camaraderie a student is immersed in the moment they arrive on campus. The collective love of aviation was electrifying and settling into a new and unfamiliar life, from everyday living to studying, was immediately put at ease knowing I was now amongst many other enthusiasts. All of this fervor helped me leap into the courses with a hunger for all that Embry-Riddle could fill. The lifestyle of managing the class schedule with early morning flights was a challenge at first but prepared me for the sometimes demanding schedule of airline life. Juggling a schedule like this is part of the college program across our country at many schools, yet the structure I was given through Embry-Riddle’s aviation curriculum helped carry me through those demanding days.
What three traits or skills have made you the most successful in your career?
Perseverance: Prioritizing my goals and envisioning the desired outcome, yet stopping every day and taking in the realization that my current place in my career was the goal at some earlier point in life. This helps me reflect on and appreciate where I am in my career.
Empathy: No person is isolated from the rest of world, we all have relations with others and putting this trait into action helps interpersonal relationships grow exponentially. In the customer relation business airlines are built upon, this trait is essential to nurturing and growing our airline’s business.
Teamwork: From departure gate to en route to the arrival gate, the amount of planning and work that goes into one flight is astonishing when realized. In the airline environment many people are involved in the process of getting a flight off the departure gate on time and much of this goes understandably unnoticed to the public eye. We operate every flight with a concept known as Cockpit Resource Management (CRM). This is essentially a communication loop built with teamwork where each inflight and ground crew member is involved in a feedback process whether the flight runs normal or encounters any degree of abnormality. Put simply, CRM is the fuel which the machine of an airline operation needs to run successfully. With the amount of customers and employees involved in one day of an airlines operation, we would be hard pressed to complete it all without a good teamwork environment.
Are there any challenges that students need to be aware of as they enter the workforce?
Do you have any advice for students seeking positions in the aviation industry?
Changes are happening rapidly in the airline industry as far as the modeling of regional and mainline staffing and operation. New flight hour minimums and regulations have increased the required minimums an applicant to any airline must need, 1500 total time with an ATP. Retirements at the three largest mainlines; American, Delta, and United are due to produce an approximate number of 10,000 positions over the next ten years. The third factor of massive growth for the next decade is the new rest regulations now in effect, requiring longer minimum rest overnights which increases staffing required to cover the schedule each week. Envoy currently has a pipeline program in effect with various flight schools including Embry-Riddle, where an applicant’s total flight time may be reduced to a lower minimum. This program allows the hiring of an applicant before they meet the minimum flight time and subsequently working to gain the flight time before flying the line at Envoy.
A couple of challenges which anyone interested in the airline career should be aware of is the family dynamics involved with being away from home three to four nights a week. Whether you live in base or commute like myself, having an understanding spouse at home is something I am very fortunate to have. My wife Amy and I met when I was on my way to new hire training with American Eagle, so from the beginning she understood the dynamics of being apart for periods of time and was acclimated to this by the time we lived together. Leaving Amy to a house full of kids mixed in with her full time job is not for everyone, though I am lucky to have such a compassionate and loving partner who understands very well the life we as airline pilots live. In the beginning of my time at American Eagle, Amy would come along on overnights with me and got to meet the excellent people that make this job so fun. Understanding the day-to-day life whether on reserve or flying a scheduled line of flying was a good foundation to our relationship in later years. While we may be gone for days at a time, we can have three and sometimes four or five days off at a time, depending on the way we can move our schedules around.
Overall, it is a great time to get into the airline industry with the known turnover from retirements for at least the next ten to fifteen years. It will become a very rewarding career with the changes coming. The flying bug bites such a diverse group of individuals and that fact makes this job a very fun and interesting one. Some pilots started young knowing this was their career of choice, while I’ve flown with many who have previous careers ranging from Wall Street stock floor traders to Psychologists, making the switch and starting over as a career airline pilot.
I often remark to my fellow crew members that we have what I believe to be the best corner office with a view unparalleled. It is quite a place to sit, watch and reflect on all that activity encompassing that fond planet we soar over each day.