Danielle Aitchison

FO B737

Health Science degree in Psychology,
Bachelor Aviation Management.

"My name is Danielle Aitchison, I am 40 years old and was born and raised in rural New Zealand.

Growing up I realised at quite an early age I wanted to be a pilot. My father and grandfather were both pilots, hearing their stories sparked a love of flying which has brought over the years both highs and lows, but equally some of the greatest experiences of my life.

Like most that fly will say, being a pilot requires patience, determination and dedication in equal measures, and, at times, a sense of humour! For me learning these qualities began early when I was 13, setting foot in an aeroplane for the first time I was eager to start flying lessons! However, being told to “wait a couple of years” until I was at least able to fly solo lead me to use the time well preparing for what lay ahead.

After working various jobs to pay for training and with the support of my family, at 18 years old I gained my Private Pilots Licence and 21 years my Commercial Licence. My first real flying job was as an aerial survey pilot in a Cessna 206, then to a Cessna 402 light twin. I then started my instructor's rating to help build hours, but this was put on hold after an offer of a First Officers position on a Jetstream 32 for a regional airline in my home country. This in hindsight was one of the most significant and important breaks of my career. Here I learned discipline and structure, a chance to redefine personal limits among a positive training environment, all of which would prove to be essential and called upon throughout the years to come.

In 2006 along with many others I was made redundant with 800 hours total time. After a well-timed employment offer and some quick decision making, I left NZ to begin what would be an incredible four years flying overseas. During this time, I flew for various South African companies as a contract pilot. I lived and worked in Angola where I worked for a VIP charter company, flying diamonds for international companies such as DeBeers and BHP Biliton. I experienced long-distance ferry flying, covering most of Southern Africa. I also was lucky enough to be part of a 40-hour ferry flight from Australia to Johannesburg, South Africa, stopping in some pretty amazing places along the way! After Angola, I spent eight months living in Kabul, Afghanistan and Islamabad, Pakistan as a pilot contracted to the United Nations World Food Program (UNWFP). This period changed my outlook on life.

After this, I returned back to Africa for the UNWFP stationed in Chad and Cameroon. I then obtained my command on the Beech 1900 and spent four months in Niger flying crew on rotation in and out of the Sahara desert to oil and uranium mines. After this I was involved in a start-up airline in the Comoros Islands, however, after contacting Malaria I decided it was time to return home to pursue my next goal of becoming a jet pilot.

In 2012 I obtained my Air Transport Pilots Licence while working as a medical pilot in NZ. Despite the challenging role I enjoyed it very much and was sad to leave for the opportunity to complete my first jet type rating on the Boeing 737. This was for a job in Australia that was never to eventuate, and with no work on offer in NZ, I again was forced to look overseas.

The next few years I flew as a First Officer in Panama for an airline called Copa Airlines flying to north, south, central America and the Caribbean. Despite the challenges of moving away from home and learning a new language (poorly!), I felt proud to be flying for such a great company and alongside many great people of different cultures and backgrounds. This experience was both incredibly rich and rewarding. During 2016 I returned closer to home to Fiji where I flew again on the 737 for Fiji Airways. Another rewarding experience, flying around the Pacific Islands, Australia and NZ with a great bunch of people.

In 2017 quite unexpectedly I lost my aviation medical and as a result my employment. This taught me a valuable lesson in that sometimes life can throw curveballs and you are wise to have a plan B to action. My whole career to this point had been in the flight-deck, so for me this meant figuring out a new direction. I began study towards a Health Science degree in Psychology and this year additionally a Bachelor Aviation Management. After three years of health challenges, I now have my medical back and once again look forward to returning to the skies.

As we navigate through these unprecedented times with the current worldwide pandemic affecting everyone I remain optimistic that in time as we recover, industries such as air travel will flourish once again, bringing back with it many exciting and rewarding opportunities!"

Commercial Pilot,
Health Science degree in Psychology,
Bachelor Aviation Management.

New Zealand

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