We sat down with Alexander Aguilar Tobon who is a proud LIFT graduate. He recently paid a visit to LIFT. In his words, “I left as a student and came back as a captain! Thank you, LIFT.” Alex reflects on his time at LIFT, sharing that the dream is not easy but the training was amazing. From Colombia, he also noted that he learned aviation and English at the same time, thanks to incredible instructors.
Question: Hi, Alexander! Thank you for sitting down with me today. Before we takeoff, I wanted to take a moment to congratulate you on your graduation from the LIFT Academy Program. You must be thrilled to be able to say, “I made it!” Will you share a little bit about yourself?
Alexander: Thank you so much! I am proudly from Colombia and arrived in the U.S. with the hope of becoming a pilot and living out my dreams.
Question: Can you tell us about a moment or motivation that made you interested in aviation?
Alexander: I was about 8 years old the first time I flew with my dad, and I was terrified. My dad pushed me out of my comfort zone and showed me that I can overcome my fears. Once I got into the DC-9, the feeling was indescribable. My dad encouraged me to pursue aviation, telling me to chase that feeling because it is the kind that we live for. Since that moment, I started watching planes flying overhead and going to the airport just to watch the planes. Now, my dream is to fly the planes I used to watch every day, especially the 747s.
Question: It sounds like your dad had a huge impact on your pursuit of aviation. When you came to LIFT Academy, did you have a mentor or a person who provided the same support?
Alexander: I was lucky enough to have the best CFIs who made my experience at LIFT incomparable. Since I knew minimal English when I came to the U.S., I struggled often with language barriers. Michael Shawd, Charles Alford and Jake Rose took me under their wing and helped me find ways to learn the material without running into as many challenges. They were determined to make my dream come true.
Question: That is truly a testament to the culture here between our students and CFIs. So, how did you decide to train at LIFT Academy?
Alexander: When I began doing research to apply for flight schools, I had a friend in aviation who encouraged me to apply to LIFT. I was accepted into the program in 2019, flew through the program, then worked at LIFT as a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) until 2021.
Question: Wow, you really did fly through LIFT Academy! What was your favorite part about the program while you were a student or even as a CFI?
Alexander: To say just one thing would be to underscore all the amazing qualities of the program. Personally, I am most grateful for the staff who would recognize a challenge I was going through, talk about it with me individually and identify some solutions.
Question: The LIFT staff are truly one of a kind! When you look back on your experience over the years, is there a favorite memory that sticks out?
Alexander: Absolutely! When I was testing for my commercial license, my instructor who knew me all too well noticed that I was nervous for this checkride, so we made a spot in an airport to eat. After thirty minutes of pep talk, the flight was completely different and I began to realize “I’m safe” and “I can do this,” which is when I learned even more about myself as a pilot.
Question: Facing your fears is definitely a pivotal moment when pursuing a career as a pilot. What in your career thus far are you proudest of?
Alexander: As I mentioned previously, I came to the U.S. with no English background. Since I studied aviation and English at the same time, without any English language classes, I technically speak more aviation English than the language itself. It is an everyday process to develop a second language, so I am still working on my English language skills.
Question: You have accomplished so much in such a short time, from learning a new language to becoming an instructor. To conclude our conversation, I want to ask you what I ask everyone at the end of our time together! What advice do you have for people considering a career in aviation?
Alexander: The biggest lesson I can convey to future aviators is to push yourself in the right ways, learn from your mistakes but do not expect perfection. If you believe that you cannot make a mistake, you will never learn. Write all of your mistakes on a piece of paper and work in a way to prevent them from reoccurring. Last but not least, never give up. If you fail a checkride, you should always continue your flight because you will be put in a situation as a commercial pilot where you must keep flying. It is most important to love what you do and always find ways to improve.
If you’re ready to take off at LIFT Academy and land at Republic Airways, apply today!