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On the way to American Airlines

Gabriel Verde was an eight-year-old boy living in the jungles of Peru when his family emigrated from South America to the United States. He remembers seeing a massive American Airlines airplane for the first time and wanting to know how it flew. As the airplane took off, he was hooked on flying – and set his sights on becoming a pilot.

After high school, Gabriel pursued a career in aviation at Averett University in Danville, Virginia where he was accepted into Piedmont’s Cadet Program. After building hours as a flight instructor, Gabriel began training as a Piedmont first officer. He’s now the first of our cadets to upgrade to captain.

Piedmont launched the Cadet Program in 2016 and the program now includes partnerships with 23 schools. To be eligible for the program, pilots must be a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) at a Piedmont partner school and have 400 hours of total flight time. Candidates interview for the cadet program and if selected join a career path that takes them all the way to American Airlines. Cadets receive a conditional job offer when they reach required flying hours, which is between 1,000 and 1,500 total flight time. Candidates are mentored along the way, meet with our chief pilots, have lunch with Piedmont’s CEO and attend recruiting events.

Gabriel chose Piedmont’s Cadet Program because he knew several Piedmont pilots who came from Averett. “My goal was to eventually work for American Airlines and the quickest way to reach my goal was through starting at Piedmont,” said Gabriel. “It’s pretty unheard of in the industry to have the opportunity to upgrade from first officer to captain in about a year but at Piedmont you can.”

“Gabriel is a natural leader,” said Lynnette Darnell, Piedmont’s Cadet Program manager. “He is always positive and is a significant help in our recruiting efforts.” Now that Gabriel has upgraded to captain, his next goal is to flow to American in three to four years.

Learn more about Piedmont’s Cadet Program online or email Lynnette Darnell at