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Behind the Wings: Celebrating culture and opportunity

Male Pilot Captain for Piedmont Airlines

Captain Luis Rodriguez Rojas is proud of his Colombian heritage. “Hispanics never need an excuse for a celebration,” said Rojas. National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 through October 15 and traditionally honors the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans and celebrates the heritage rooted in all Latin American countries. Luis celebrates by hosting a barbecue with friends and family and shares his Colombian culture with his co-workers through his membership in the Latin Diversity Network and Veterans/Military Employee Resource Groups.

Love led him to the United States and career opportunity led him to pursue his pilot career, but he never forgets where he came from. Luis grew up in Bucaramanga, Colombia.  As a child he was hyperactive and instead of relying on medication, his parents encouraged his involvement in extracurricular activities to keep him busy. At age 13, he became an electronic technician which helped him in his future military and aviation careers. He attended a table tennis academy where he traveled to tournaments as part of the Colombian National Under 14 team. He trained daily and was the number two player in the country. Luis graduated high school early at age 16 and attended two years at Pontificia Bolivariana University where he studied electronic engineering.

He joined the Colombian Army in 2004 and during his three years of service worked in military policing, intelligence and reconnaissance before deploying to Egypt for one year. He met his wife in Egypt who was doing contract work. Shortly after he left the Army, he got married and moved to his wife’s hometown of Horsham, Pennsylvania.

Since a young age Luis had always enjoyed flying remote control (RC) airplanes and joined a local RC club. He never thought he would fly an airplane or fly as a career until he had a conversation with a family member who worked in the aviation industry. The family member encouraged him to research attending Delta’s flight school called Delta Connection Academy in Sanford, Florida. He scheduled a tour in January 2008, did a discovery flight and was hooked.

Later that year, Luis began flight training at Delta Connection Academy and was the only Hispanic in his class of 25. He graduated two years later as a flight instructor and was hired to instruct at the school. He reflects learning aviation lingo was difficult for him because of the language barrier.

His daughter was born that same year and he began looking at airlines. He began his career as a first officer with GoJet in 2012 where he flew for one year but had a difficult commute. “I was a father now and I wanted to home more with my baby,” says Luis. The family relocated from Florida back to Horsham. The following year he flew corporate jets and learned that Air Wisconsin had a crew base in Philadelphia. A base nearby meant no commute. He joined Air Wisconsin in March 2014 and remained a first officer until June 2018. After his captain upgrade was cancelled several times, the future of the airline was uncertain. A pilot friend at Piedmont shared with him they were hiring direct entry captains. Luis joined Piedmont as a captain in June 2018. “The training was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” says Luis. “I had never flown an Embraer jet and had never been an airline captain. I knew it was going to be hard, but I passed.”

Luis is an active member of the Latino Pilots Association (LPA) and Piedmont’s Latin Diversity Network and Veterans/Military Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). “It’s important for me to share with others not to get discouraged when there is opportunity to pursue the career you want,” says Luis. “I’m an immigrant with an average GPA, no bachelor’s degree and basic education and I am an example that you can get there and make it a reality.” Luis shares that he never would’ve had an opportunity to be a pilot in Colombia. “That was a career for rich kids,” he says. “Flight training in Colombia is seven times more expensive than in the United States.”

At home, he enjoys helping to cook Hispanic meals for his friends and taking his American friends to visit Colombia. “The country of Colombia doesn’t have the best history, but the culture and people are wonderful. It isn’t like you see on the news.” He also shares the importance of his Colombian culture with his two children and is teaching them Spanish. “It’s important to maintain that heritage, and my children are aware they are both Colombian and American.”

Luis enjoys meeting and connecting with other Piedmont team members through the ERGs. “My heritage is important to me and I enjoy sharing it with others,” says Luis proudly. He also enjoys learning about other’s cultures through the ERGs. “The more we learn about each other, the more understanding there will be.”

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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. Piedmont is proud to recognize our Latino team members and their contributions to the success of the airline and making a difference in their communities.