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Behind the Wings: The journey of First Officer Vladimira Kristianova

EMB-145 First Officer Vladimira Kristianova joined Piedmont in October 2022, but their journey in aviation started at the age of 5.  

“I first flew on a plane when we moved from Taiwan to Wharton, Texas. I don’t remember much about our move except that I had a window seat and saw the taxi lights, which I did not recognize at the time…but the airplane fascinated me.”  

This fascination propelled her in Middle School to reach out to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) for advice on her interest in aviation. With ALPA’s advice to, “stay in school and study hard”, Vladimira became the first person in her family to obtain a degree and attend graduate school. After obtaining her degrees she spent time trying out a variety of roles, but her dream of being a pilot never left her.  

“I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a pilot in 2012 but due to a lack of quality instruction I ended up stopping. It was not until 2016 that my spouse encouraged me to go deep into debt and follow my dreams to the end! I devoted 100 percent to achieving my goal, and despite continuing setbacks and times when I wanted to quit, I found the support I needed. Whether it was veteran and eventual best friend Brad Branum, also struggling alongside me, or seeing my Asian roommate succeed and be there to also cheer me on, the journey would not have been possible solo.” 

She’s been following her dream ever since. From her time in aerial survey, to then flying jets for a 135 operator, she learned from the others around her such as Monument Air Works Chief Pilot Adam Evans and fellow Piedmont Captain Mohcine Afaf.  

Now at Piedmont, Vladimira has had time to reflect on her experiences coming up through the ranks as a person who identifies with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Community.  

“I personally did not experience any difficulties getting to where I am at in my career regarding my identity, and I realize now how lucky I have been, but I did witness some others struggle a bit. Sometimes frustrated controllers would lose their patience with student pilots whose mastery of English was less than satisfactory. In a few memorable moments I have keyed the mic to translate in the interest of safety, once even for an airline crew,” said Vladimiria.  

I am proud to be a part of this diverse group of pilots. Despite our [AAPI Community] having a large general population, it feels like we are underrepresented. It is vital that minority populations be more visible. It helps to dispel the myth that certain professions are limited to a certain group of people when everyone has the ability to see themselves in a diverse workplace. I did not see a single Asian pilot in my pursuit of my license until CFI school, where I met only one. She now flies for Envoy. In my professional career, I saw one Chinese student pilot and met two other Asian commercial pilots. I have only seen two Asian jump seaters.” 

The feelings and experiences Vladimira speaks of are not unfounded. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020, the representation of Asian professionals in the aviation industry reflects: 2.2% for Pilots, 3.2% for Aircraft Mechanics & Service Technicians, 9.1% for Aerospace Engineers, 10.6% for Flight Attendants, and 3.6% for Air Traffic Controllers. She calls out specifically the importance of representation and the historical figures who paved the way for AAPI Aviators like Women Air Force Service Pilot Hazel Ying Lee.  

“I know from reading and hearing some pilots talk that diversity often carries a negative connotation, whether it’s applied to gender, ethnicity, or other factors, especially at airlines where it has become a major goal. Often it is the perception that opportunities are being closed off for some groups, preferential hiring for others, or that people have not earned their place through merit. What surprised me the most, however, was finding out the older pilots are often the ones most supportive of bringing in new blood. My CFI Howard Davenport and DPE Tony Michelli both worked for the FAA at one time and saw my passion for aviation, and they were very supportive.”  

Vladimira’s reflection on the support she has received in the past now has her eyeing the future. A future that is bright for aviation and Piedmont. 

“The rate of change in recent airline hiring trends has everyone excited! I think using the word unprecedented would not be out of place. I watch the development of new aircraft with great interest, and I am looking forward to seeing how ecofriendly engineering will work out.”  

Vladimira brings with her years of demonstrated competency, a positive attitude, and lived experiences that further enrich the lives of fellow Piedmont employees and our customers. She is now the one paving the way for more Asian Women to enter the aviation industry.  As she recalls, “A memorable interaction was with a young girl who asked, “You’re a pilot?”, which she replied, “Not only am I your pilot, but I’ll be flying this leg!”” 

Vladimira would like to thank those who have supported her journey to becoming a commercial airline pilot.