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Inspiration from one can change everything

“On a family trip when I was four years old, I had the opportunity to sit in the flight deck and knew then that I wanted to be a pilot,” reflects Piedmont First Officer Mark White. “I had never seen anyone who looked like me fly a plane and never thought it was a real career option. All it took was one person who looked like me to show me that my dream could become a reality and I never looked back.”

In high school, Mark excelled in both math and science and was encouraged to become an engineer. He obtained two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Delaware in Political Science and Environmental Engineering but in his senior year, a discovery flight with a friend reignited Mark’s passion to fly. “It took me seeing my friend flying and having that exposure to feel like I now had someone to follow,” shares Mark. “I eventually saw him join an airline and travel the world. He was making it happen and I wanted to make it happen for me. I decided to begin my journey and obtain my private pilot’s license.”

After college, Mark was selected for General Electric’s Edison Engineering Development Program that offered work experience in renewable energy and paid for him to obtain his master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology. While working in New Orleans, he obtained his private pilot license before moving to Greenville, South Carolina where he obtained all his necessary ratings. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he paused accumulating his flight hours until airlines began hiring again in 2021. After building his time, he received job offers from two regional carriers but decided neither were the best fit for him. Along his journey, he met a Piedmont Captain who shared Piedmont’s new industry defining salaries for pilots, told him about the guaranteed flow to American Airlines and shared his positive experience about working for Piedmont. Mark applied and joined Piedmont as a First Officer in August 2022.

“I had great instructors in training and feel I was set up for success,” shares Mark. “The instructors did a great job converting a guy who had never flown a jet into a good airline pilot.” Mark enjoys the different challenges and scenarios that each flight presents. “No two flights have ever been the same and I like that.”

Mark is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers and an alumni advisor for his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, Inc. at the University of Delaware. He keeps in weekly contact with a few of his prior students who are airline-bound to provide guidance and support along their journey. “I was talking with one of my prior students about why we don’t see many black pilots in the flight deck,” shares Mark. “I think that cost is sometimes a barrier but now there are so many programs like cadet programs that can help offset that financial barrier. I think the number one reason is the lack of exposure. If someone has never been on a plane or a family member has never exposed them to the aviation industry, they don’t know it is even an option.”

Mark says the conversation always comes up in the flight deck about how each pilot got into flying. “I’ve heard their parent is a pilot or they have an uncle who owns a plane,” says Mark. “I was fortunate that my father shared his interest in airplanes with me at an early age and later to meet someone during my college years who showed me that I can do this. Someone who looks like me is accomplishing their goal of commercial flight and I wanted to accomplish the same goal. If I can inspire one person to take that one leap, I will have felt success.”