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Behind the Wings: Inspiring young female aviators

 

Growing up in rural Virginia, Piedmont First Officer Jessica Koeppen didn’t think flying the skies was even a career option for her. Her father, who initially sparked her interest in flying, surprised her with an introductory flight lesson for her sixteenth birthday. After her first lesson, she fell in love with flying and wanted to learn more.

Shortly after that introductory flight lesson, when she was only 17, Jessica attended her first “Women Can Fly” event at Warrenton-Fauquier Airport (HWY) in Midland, Virginia. The event features representatives from the airlines, military, business and recreational aviation who showcase aviation’s diverse field for career opportunities and provides an opportunity for an introductory flight in a private plane with volunteer pilots. After speaking with a female pilot at the event she knew that becoming a pilot was what she wanted to do as a career. Through her drive and determination, she earned her private pilot’s license that same year and attended summer camp classes at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Jessica went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science in 2017 and was a flight instructor for two years. While in school, she served as the secretary for the Women in Aviation Daytona Beach Chapter. After graduating, she moved home to Virginia and finished her flight hours instructing at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD).

In the summer of 2018, she attended her second “Women Can Fly” event at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport, but this time she wasn’t a participant but attended as a licensed pilot giving introductory rides to young aspiring aviators. “It was so great seeing girls’ faces light up the way mine did years ago,” said Jessica. “It felt great volunteering and sharing what made me fall in love with flying to the next generation of female aviators.”

Jessica joined Piedmont as a First Officer in August 2018. “There is added pressure to prove myself as a female pilot in a male-dominant career field,” said Jessica. “Even though I’m wearing my pilot uniform at the airport, I am still mistaken for the flight attendant. I have passengers ask me if I am a pilot on their flight and they are surprised when I say yes. I even heard a passenger exclaim ‘Look honey, there’s a girl in the flight deck!’”

Jessica says she is grateful her male colleagues treat her as their equal. “Piedmont has been a great airline to work for as a female pilot and I haven’t been treated like I was less than anyone else,” said Jessica.

Jessica has been flying with Piedmont a little over a year and has only flown with a female captain once. She recently had the unique opportunity to fly with Piedmont Captain Lindsay Craigmyle. “She made me feel welcomed and I enjoyed flying with her, learning from her and talking about her pilot journey.”

Jessica is in the process of becoming involved with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) ACE club to mentor young aviators, and is an active member of Piedmont’s Professional Women in Aviation Employee Resource Group (PWIA).

Reflecting on her personal aviation journey Jessica states, “I would like to be the reason that some other girl decides to pursue a career in aviation.”

Behind the Wings is a Piedmont feature that highlights the accomplishments of the aviation professionals who make us Piedmont Proud inside and outside the airport. In honor of Women’s History Month, Piedmont is proud to recognize our female team members and their contributions to the success of the airline and making a difference in their communities.