Gliding through turbulence

DAVIA-MARIE Chin walked into 2023 as a certified flight instructor (CFI) — a dream that she said was marred by many setbacks.

The 29-year-old, who is also a personal flight concierge in private aviation, was introduced to the career path at Meadowbrook High School and knew immediately that it was the one for her.

“After accomplishing my goal of passing the CFI exam on December 28, 2022, gosh! I felt truly proud of myself as well as encouraged, because now I can really help someone achieve their passion of tasting flight. I also felt empowered because completing this certificate was a huge undertaking — I’ve faced many roadblocks through my journey,” Chin told the Jamaica Observer.

“From not having the financial backing, as flight training is extremely expensive, the year 2020 was especially taxing as I was down to working two days a week working an hourly job which, honestly, was just enough money to pay for gas so all the money I had saved to complete training went into daily expenses to buy groceries and pay rent and other bills,” she continued, noting that she also lost her grandmother in 2020, “which was just extremely heartbreaking and took a strong toll on me emotionally”.

Chin was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, where she lived with both parents and an older brother. Her educational journey started at Richmond Park Preparatory School, and she stayed in Jamaica up until 2017 at which time she immigrated to the US and got her first job as a cashier at a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia.

A few months after, she got a job working as a customer service representative at Fixed Base Operator (FBO), and continued there until 2021 – a much more “refreshing” experience.

She related that not only did she learn more about aviation and all the different paths she could take in the industry, she was also able to network and build on flying hours with customers who had their airplanes based at the airport, or people visiting Atlanta.

“My parents worked extremely hard to make ends meet and to also provide for both me and my older brother. The foundation of my education stared at Richmond Park Preparatory School, which both I and my older brother attended. It was a very small school and spending most hours of our days there, my brother and I admired the principal at the time, Ms Douglas. She was like a grandmother to us, and the vice-principal, Mrs Green , as like an aunt. They always encouraged both of us to work and study hard in school so that we could have a bright future.”

At Meadowbrook, Chin thought she wanted to be a lawyer. However, her real interest started coming to the fore and by fifth form, she joined the Aviation Club of Jamaica.

“Originally, I was pursuing law in grade 12 but quickly realised that it was no longer the career I wanted. After attending the Aviation Club a few times I took a discovery flight at Tinson Pen, and that was where my interest in being a pilot started. I was more involved and was consistent in attending the Aviation Club. I began doing more research on how to become a pilot.

“But, to be honest, I got really discouraged when I saw the price tag attached to attending flight school so I started thinking that maybe I can just be a flight attendant first, or work at the administrative level first, and maybe one day I can really become a pilot,” she recalled to the Sunday Observer.

Chin was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in aviation administration at the Caribbean Aerospace College when a friend recommended that she attend a seminar that a Florida-based flight school was hosting.

The seminar was geared towards raising awareness about an expected pilot shortage in the future, as well as recruiting aspiring pilots. The seminar offered two tests to attendees, and if successful they were given a scholarship.

Chin did the tests and was awarded a scholarship “but wrestled with if I should even tell my parents, because I knew that it would be even more of a financial struggle to send me overseas to pursue such an expensive career”.

Nonetheless, she was encouraged and reminded by a friend that aviation was her passion, and that it was an amazing opportunity that shouldn’t be treated lightly.

“So, I took his advice. I spent weeks, maybe a month, trying to convince my parents that this is really what I wanted to pursue. At the time I was told that for you to get employment as pilot, you have to have a degree. So, I was given a choice — finish college or go to flight school. As you can imagine, I chose the latter, flight training,” she said.

“I watched my parents sacrifice every penny and go into enormous debt just to send me to flight training. For this, I will always be grateful for the love and selflessness that my parents showed. I began flight training in the summer of 2012 and completed my course, up to commercial licence, in the spring of 2013. My days consisted of nothing but eat, sleep, and breathing aviation. There was no room for error because I know that the longer I took to complete my training was the more expensive it would become — and believe me, there was no extra money to give.”

After flight training Chin was unemployed for a year, which she said took a toll on her self-esteem.

At the time, she added, she thought her world was coming to an end because she had a pilot licence for which her parents had sacrificed “blood, sweat and tears.”.

Chin found herself nervously asking, “What now?”

“This is not the type of schooling that gives you much flexibility to work anywhere. I didn’t have enough hours to work as a pilot and [for] jobs outside of aviation [people] would look at me crazy like, ‘Why try to work here if you’re a pilot?’ I started working with my dad at his car wash — yes, I started washing cars to make money — and my parents were gracious enough to let me barter some chores or work for rent, and I was able to save toward my flight training,” she told the Sunday Observer.

“I knew the only way to get more flight hours was to become a certified flight instructor, which of course required money. Thankfully, shortly after working with my dad I got a two-year contract as a flight attendant with Fly Jamaica Airways. I would try to bid for the longest flights and pick up trips that other flight attendants didn’t want so that I could save money towards my CFI training.”

Chin told the Sunday Observer that the challenges were aplenty. In some instances she considered giving up on the journey.

“I wondered if I should even continue and if it was even worth it. I was able to overcome these challenges, firstly, because of God’s grace and also the strong support of my immediate family and friends who mentored, guided and provided encouraging words,” she said.

“My family is ecstatic that, despite everything, I remained focused and saw it through. My family, friends, and flight instructors have been my biggest supporters throughout this entire journey, and to say I am thankful is an understatement.”

Chin added that currently she plans to “build as many hours and gain as much experience as I can, and help others to achieve their pilot’s licence — after which I hope to move right seat as a first officer flight private jets”.

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