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Full circle: returning to Piedmont as a Direct Entry Captain

Captain Debbie Giaconia was very close to upgrading to Captain when 9/11 altered her career path and aviation history. As a result of the reduction in flying and nature of the industry, she left Piedmont Airlines as a pilot to focus on starting a family. Twenty years and six children later, another crisis led Debbie to consider returning to fly for the airline she loved. She applied back to Piedmont, qualified for the Direct Entry Captain program, and began flying as a commercial pilot again.

“It feels amazing to be back in the flight deck and I’m so grateful that Piedmont welcomed me back after twenty years,” exclaims Debbie. “After months of training, I finally get to fly in the left seat. The events of 9/11 altered my path and the COVID pandemic brought me back to it.”

Growing up in New Hampshire, Debbie knew she wanted to be a pilot after a family trip to Jamaica. “I was able to visit the flight deck for the first time, and it was then that I knew I wanted to fly planes,” shares Debbie. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Aviation Management and Flight Operations from Daniel Webster College and while in school, received her private, instrument, glider, commercial and instructor ratings. She joined Piedmont as a First Officer in October 1999 and was based in Salisbury, Maryland where she flew the Dehavilland Dash-8.

“I loved flying the Dash-8,” says Debbie. “It was a fun plane to fly and very versatile. You could land and take off from anywhere.” Debbie was close to upgrading to Captain when 9/11 changed her flying experience. “It was a terrifying time to fly. There were no protections for pilots at the time and the flight deck door wasn’t reinforced at all. Everyone was on edge and I decided that it was time to leave commercial flying.”

Although she left the airline, Debbie continued working in aviation by towing gliders and opened her own flight instruction school in Elmira, New York. During this time, along with her husband raised six children, including one set of quadruplets.

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused a pilot shortage, Debbie considered returning to flying for an airline. Her children were older now and she was ready to step back in the flight deck. Debbie wanted to return to Piedmont and qualified for the Direct Entry Captain program. She re-joined Piedmont in November 2021.

A lot had changed since her days of flying the Dash-8. “My biggest challenge was getting up to speed with using a glass cockpit, doing GPS approaches and using an FMS, none of which I had much experience with.” After months of training, Debbie began flying in the left seat in May 2022. “I’m proud that I was able to bring myself up to the level I needed to fly the Embraer 145 as a Captain. It has been an adjustment, but the accomplishment is so meaningful to me. It also means a lot that my children are proud of me, too.”

Debbie is based in Middletown, Pennsylvania and says she enjoys working for a regional airline because of the short flights. “It never gets boring flying short trips,” she shares. As a pilot, she wants to be more visible in the flight deck to younger children as she knows the impact it can have on future pilots. “I was the little girl who fell in love with flying after the pilots showed me the flight deck on my first flight. I want to show children, especially females that becoming a pilot is possible.”

She encourages future pilots to gain a diverse flying background to be best prepared for flight training. “I have quite a bit of experience in aerobatics and gliders which helps a pilot understand what airplanes can really do.  I believe this gave me the foundation to step away from flying and come back strong.”

Debbie’s daughter Allison is following in her mother’s footsteps to work in aviation. “She wants to become a pilot but I’m also encouraging her to go to college and get a degree in case she wants to make a career change for any reason.”

Debbie is grateful to be flying for Piedmont again and looks forward to flowing to American. Piedmont is hiring Direct Entry Captains and offering industry-leading bonuses to those who qualify. Learn more about what Piedmont has to offer you here.

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