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Behind the Wings: The views were a game changer

First Officer and Ground Instructor Adrienne Whitfield was terrified of flying until she took a trip with family members to San Francisco. To help put her at ease, her brother-in-law, a former Piedmont pilot, explained what was going on before, during and after the flight. That flight sparked her interest and a few months later, she took her first discovery flight. A better understanding of the flying process and the awesome views from above were a game changer. She was hooked on aviation and never looked back.

After taking her first discovery flight with friend and Piedmont First Officer Kevin Accomazzo, Adrienne found her passion. She moved to Charlotte to pursue her private pilot license full time. “I knew I wanted to work around airplanes but beyond that, wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as far as a career in aviation,” says Adrienne. To learn more about the industry, her grandmother encouraged her to become a gate agent for the airline while building her flight hours, giving her experience on the ground and in the air. She took her advice and joined Piedmont in 2017.

Originally from the small town of Welcome, North Carolina, Adrienne was awarded a full scholarship to play golf in college but decided to move to Nashville to pursue a career in music business. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Music Business from Belmont University and worked as an intern coordinating meet and greets for country music’s biggest stars. When her grandmother became ill, she sold her home in Nashville to return home to North Carolina.

“As a gate agent, I learned a lot about the different aspects of aviation,” shares Adrienne. “Starting my aviation career on the frontline was a great first step in learning about airport and airline operations. When I told my coworkers and managers that I was training to become a pilot, everyone was so supportive.”

Adrienne obtained her private pilot’s license, instrument rating and commercial instrument ratings while working as a gate agent. She was contacted by a Piedmont recruiter with information about Piedmont’s Career Advancement Program (CAP). The program offered financial assistance to current Piedmont team members who were pursuing a pilot career however she needed to obtain her commercial license to join. “I had a new goal and I worked as hard I could to obtain my commercial license,” she says. Her hard work paid off and she obtained her commercial license about a month before the COVID pandemic affected the industry. She was fortunate to have an in-person interview and was accepted into the program before COVID paused the program.

After she accepted, Adrienne took a leave of absence during COVID and moved to Montana to build her flight hours by flying over and examining oil pipelines. For eight months, she flew a single-engine Cessna 172 over the pipelines accompanied by a spotter.  On one flight, she experienced engine failure and successfully landed the plane in a field with no injuries or major damage to the plane. “The field where we landed was in the middle of nowhere,” she shares. “There was very limited cell service and it took three hours for help to arrive.” After the incident, she reflected that if it had been winter and the ground was covered with snow, she wouldn’t have been able to see a safe place to land in the event of an emergency and decided to leave Montana. Adrienne moved to El Paso, Texas to fly a King Air for a medevac company that transported COVID patients. Although she couldn’t legally transport patients, she flew the non-working flights to reposition the aircraft.

Adrienne moved back to the Charlotte area and along with her friend, Piedmont First Officer Jake Reed, split time flying up and down the east coast to build flight hours. She completed her required hours and entered First Officer training in July 2021.

“As a pilot now, one of my small joys from working as a gate agent is seeing the people that I used to work with and my managers who supported me in my journey when I travel through the Charlotte airport,” she shares proudly. She brought her skills and knowledge gained as a gate agent with her to the flight deck. “As a gate agent, you have to be patient and empathize with what the passengers are going through and figure out how you can best help them. Patience, empathy and sharing of knowledge are skills I brought with me in my job as a pilot.”

Adrienne is a member of Women in Aviation International and prior to COVID, she was an assistant coach for her high school’s golf team and volunteered with The First Tee, a youth development organization that enables kids to build the strength of character by integrating the game of golf with a life skills curriculum. In her spare time, Adrienne enjoys spending time with family and friends and traveling to new places.

“I’ve been working for Piedmont almost five years and I love it,” Adrienne shares. Since becoming a first officer, Adrienne joined the Flight Training department as a Ground Instructor in January 2022. “The people that I work with are great, and my journey from the gate to the flight deck has been an amazing experience. I enjoy being a female pilot in the industry and hope to encourage other females to pursue their flying dreams.”

Piedmont is hiring pilots and offering up to $187,500 in bonuses. Interested in working for a premier regional airline with top notch team members who live out our mission and vision every day? Click here to learn more about our pilot career opportunities.

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 team members and their contributions to the success of the airline and making a difference in their communities.