"My name is Danielle Aitchison, I am 35 years old and was born in raised in rural New Zealand.
Growing up I realised at quite an early age I wanted to be a pilot - both my father and grand father were pilots, hearing their stories sparked a passion which has brought over the years both highs and lows, but also 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 this started when I was 13 and ﬁrst set foot in an aeroplane, after being told to "wait" a couple of years until I could actually ﬂy solo and obtain a licence, I did so but used this time preparing for what I imagined lay ahead.
After working various jobs to pay for lessons and training, at 17 years old I gained my Private Pilots Licence and 21 years my Commercial. My ﬁrst real Commercial job came soon after as an aerial survey pilot in a Cessna 206, this gradually lead to ﬂying copilot in the same company in a Cessna 402. I then started my instructors rating as a way to learn and build hours, but this was put on hold after being offered a First Ofﬁcers position on a Jetstream 32 for a regional airline in my home country. This in hindsight was one of the biggest breaks of my career. Here I learned discipline and structure, a chance to redeﬁne my personal limits while in a positive training and ﬂying environment, all of which would prove to be so important and called upon in the years to come.
Due to the increasing competition by Air New Zealand I was made redundant in August 2006 along with many others, with roughly 800 hours total time. After some decision making I decided to leave NZ and travel overseas. I spent the next 4 years as a contract pilot, ﬂying for various South African contract companies. I experienced more redundancies, job losses, promotions and fantastic experiences. I ﬂew in places such as Angola, where I worked for a VIP charter company, ﬂying diamonds for international companies such as DeBeers and BHP Billiton. I experienced long distance ferry ﬂying and covered most of Southern Africa. I then spent 8 months living in Kabul in Afghanistan and Islamabad, Pakistan as a pilot contracted to the United Nations World Food Program. This period of time changed my life. After this I was moved back to Africa for the same contract in Chad and Cameroon. I then obtained my command on the Beech 1900 and spent 4 months in Niamey, Niger, ﬂying in and out of the Sahara Desert to Oil and Uranium mines. After this I was involved in a start up airline ﬂying in Moroni, the Comoros Islands. However, due to the lifestyle and contract conditions I contracted Malaria and at the end of this contract decided to return home to New Zealand permanently to pursue my next goal of becoming a jet pilot.
In 2012 I obtained my Air Transport Pilots Licence in both New Zealand and Australia. I then moved company's several times before spending a year as a passenger and medical pilot ﬂying back once again on the Jetstream 32. Despite the challenging role, I enjoyed it very much and was sad to leave. However, I was asked to do a Boeing 737 Classic type rating for a job in Australia so ﬁnally it looked like I had my ﬁrst break into the jet airlines. Or not!
After completing a B737 type rating with Air New Zealand in Auckland, I found myself put into a hold pool for the position in Australia. Unfortunately this position never was to eventuate and with no work on offer in NZ, I again was forced to look overseas.
After seeing an advertisement online for B737 First Ofﬁcers with Copa Airlines I applied and after interviewing in Panama, was successful. I have now been living in Panama City, Panama for 6 months where I am a First Ofﬁcer on the Boeing 737NG. Despite the challenges of moving to the other side of the world and learning a new language, slowly! I am very proud to be here and ﬂying for this great company. The experience of ﬂying around North, South and Central America is not only incredible, but invaluable.
I look forward to ﬁnding out what the future holds next!