At the just-concluded Women in Aviation International Conference, Republic Airways marked the event by announcing two scholarships that promote diversity in the workforce. Manuela Cortes is the 2022 Republic Airways “Opportunity Elevated” scholarship recipient while Carolyn Thomas is the first recipient of the newly created LIFT Academy “Women in Aviation” scholarship. Both recipients received awards of $5,000 to defray their educational expenses.
To be considered for these scholarships, applicants must complete an application including a personal, original essay about their aviation experience and aspirations and share two letters of recommendation. Additional details about the Women in Aviation scholarship programs are available here: https://www.wai.org/education/resources/scholarships.
Thomas grew up in Absecon, New Jersey and was a Republic flight attendant for four and a half years before enrolling at LIFT. In college, Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Performance but decided to change career paths and find her true passion. We talked with Thomas about her experience with LIFT, asked her about the impact of the scholarship on her career and discussed the importance of highlighting women in aviation.
What is something that you wished more people knew about you?
Carolyn Thomas: My path to getting here wasn’t conventional. It wasn’t until I had almost completed my masters work that I realized that my dream wasn’t what I wanted for my reality, and it was a hard pill to swallow. By taking a step back from higher education and getting into a different field, I discovered a love for the aviation industry I never knew I could have. It seems like a lot of student pilots have had the goal of becoming commercial airline pilots since they were very young. Although that wasn’t always my dream, I also share in that same aspiration now backed by the motivation to succeed.
What was you first memory of aviation?
Carolyn: Growing up, my father was a fighter pilot for the Air Force, who eventually transitioned to be a commercial airline pilot. I always enjoyed going to see him at the base, watching the jets take off and going up in a Piper when he would take us flying. My earliest memories of aviation were watching my dad step out of an F-16 on the ramp and toddling over to him. The first time I remember being at the controls of an aircraft, I was sitting in the right seat of a general aviation plane, holding the yoke, and banking the plane to the right as I stared down out the window below me. As an adult, I look back and see how special these memories are and how much there is to appreciate about my childhood experiences flying.
Who is your biggest inspiration in your pursuit in becoming a professional airline pilot?
Carolyn: My biggest inspiration is absolutely my father. I watched his career progress from military to airlines and just last year officially retired from American Airlines with 31 years of service. I cannot express how grateful and proud I am to have my father as a role model not only for his career, but as a person. He has instilled in me a dedicated and strong work ethic by modeling that himself. Since I became a flight attendant, he strongly encouraged me to pursue flying and made me realize that it was an attainable goal for me in my own professional career.
What is your current position? Where are you currently in your flight training?
Carolyn: I am a new student at LIFT and am working on my Private Pilot License. While working as a flight attendant, I started flying a C172 in a part 61 school back home, taking lessons on my days off from work. I was interested in training full time, and when Republic announced their flight school, I began to research if it would be possible for me to attend. Even though I was nearing the end of my private at home, I decided to come to LIFT and work their program from the beginning.
What does a typical day look like for you a flight student? Describe what your responsibilities are, etc.
Carolyn: A typical day as a flight student at LIFT requires at home self-study preparing for the lesson of the day as well as going to the hangar and doing either a flight or ground session, or sometimes both. I know that going in for my lessons, knowing I’m confident in what I learned, or having questions prepared for your instructor will set me up for success. We are scheduled to fly five days a week, with opportunities to pick up open time flying or ground sessions with other instructors on our days off, which are an invaluable opportunity during weeks where weather makes it difficult to fly.
What other positions have you held that lead you on your path to your current role?
Carolyn: Before starting at LIFT, I was a flight attendant at Republic Airways. Before I was a flight attendant, I was a classically trained trombonist, pursing a dual master’s degree. I took the flight attendant job at Republic to figure out what I wanted to do, thinking that it would be a job that I worked for a little while before deciding to go back to the degree program I was close to completing. I fell in love with the industry, I fell in love with the schedule and I fell in love with the confidence that I gained doing something that I excelled in. After a year, my father started pushing me to take a discovery flight, but at the time, I really didn’t think that being a pilot was attainable for me. After a couple of years of him urging me to, I finally took a flight and fell in love. Republic gave me a chance at a life I didn’t even know I wanted, in an industry I never thought I would be involved in. When they opened their flight school with opportunities for current employees, I knew it was a path I wanted to pursue.
Please share what it means to you to be a Women in Aviation scholarship recipient.
Carolyn: Feeling recognized by an impactful organization like Women in Aviation is fulfilling. Being selected as a recipient of a scholarship gives me not only confidence, but motivation to do well in the aviation industry and community to further spread the message of advancement and encouragement to other women. Women in Aviation’s message of empowerment is a message I wish to embody.
How will this scholarship help move you forward in your flight training?
Carolyn: We all know that flight training is expensive and any little bit towards training helps. But further, this scholarship motivates me even more to do well in my training to really be deserving of it.
Aviation has historically been an industry with a mainly male workforce. What inspired you to begin your aviation journey?
Carolyn: Even as a professional musician, I was in a male dominated workforce. I am used to being one of few women in the room. I was raised by a father who was a pilot, who established a strong work ethic in me and always supported me to pursue what I wanted. His encouragement to pursue flight training and always helping me with groundwork when needed really inspired me to begin my journey in aviation.
How does being a female pilot make you feel?
Carolyn: I’ve never thought too much about being a ‘female’ pilot, I just knew I wanted to succeed in flying. Being a pilot makes me proud and it makes me feel competent. Matching aeronautical knowledge with technical skill in flying makes for a very rewarding experience.
What are you most proud of in your career so far? What are you looking forward to?
Carolyn: I am most proud of my seemingly eclectic background. I am proud of a degree, my past work as a crisis counselor and as a flight attendant and proud of my experiences that led me here. I am looking forward to completing my ratings and becoming a first officer, being back out on the line and living the lifestyle that I grew to love over the years. I am looking forward to having financial stability and a good quality of life at a company that has given me as much as I have given them. I am looking forward to flying with my dad in general aviation, he as a retired pilot and me just starting my career as a commercial airline pilot.
What advice would you give to young women interested in pursuing any career in aviation?
Carolyn: The advice I would give them is to just go for it! Take a discovery flight, see if aviation is a good fit. You never know until you try, and if you stay in a mindset that it isn’t attainable, or you don’t have the brain to do it, you’ll never realize that it is possible.
What about Republic stands out to you in the aviation industry?
Carolyn: I have a biased view perhaps, but I am so grateful for what Republic has given me during a time where I needed stability. Republic has always treated me fairly, and I never felt like just another Associate. I felt cared for at times when I needed external assistance and felt appreciated and supported by supervisors and the training department. Republic has great company moral and it’s a company I am proud to represent.
How do you look forward to working with Republic in the future?
Carolyn: I look forward to being back on the line, in a different position, and having the knowledge of procedures and routines in the back with the flight attendants. I look forward to being able to be an effective communicator between the flight deck and flight attendants. I am excited to be exposed to different viewpoints by having knowledge of both sides of flight crew operations. I also look forward to contributing to outreach efforts, if at all possible, to help in the recruiting of young aviators looking to break into the industry.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Carolyn: The only other thing I would like to share is how grateful I am to Women in Aviation, Republic Airways and LIFT Academy for selecting me as this scholarship winner. I strive to be a good example as a student and as a professional, and this recognition has helped me reflect on the many positive experiences I’ve had along the way.