“On this Father’s Day and every day, I think about my Dad. He would be so proud to know that I followed in his footsteps and have achieved my American dream,” reflects First Officer Abel Leon. In their home country of the Dominican Republic, Abel and his father Virgilio, a 20-year American Airlines ground support equipment (GSE) mechanic, shared a passion for airplanes. At age 21 with $500 in his pocket, Abel left home seeking a better life in the United States. Sadly, his father passed away before seeing Abel follow in his aviation footsteps by becoming an aircraft mechanic and later a commercial pilot.
“This is the only country where my story is possible,” shares Abel fondly. “I grew up one of six children in a poor neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I came from nothing but had the opportunity to come to the United States and achieve something. I wish my father could see that I made a good life for myself.”
When Abel was young, he wanted to be a pilot. His father would bring him to the airport where he worked, and he loved the atmosphere. Abel knew that becoming a pilot wasn’t a possibility in his home country so while he was attending college, Abel traveled to the United States to earn money to pay for his education. While there, he fell in love with the country and decided to stay and seek a better life.
At age 21, with no formal work skills, Abel moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and delivered pizzas to earn money. This was not the American dream he had hoped to find. His father passed away during this time before he saw Abel reach his goals in America. After an impactful conversation with his manager who encouraged him to attend maintenance school, Abel decided to research the opportunity. He liked working with his hands and after learning about student loan opportunities, Abel enrolled at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM) in Philadelphia. While in school, he joined US Airways as a part-time ramp agent to become familiar with the industry and get his foot in the door with an airline. He graduated from AIM where he earned his Airframe and Powerplant certifications and became an Aircraft Maintenance Technician.
In early 2013, US Airways was only hiring experienced mechanics, so Abel accepted a position at Air Wisconsin. After gaining some work experience, he was able to return back to US Airways where he worked on everything from small regional aircraft to large mainline planes. During this time, US Airways merged with American Airlines. During a road trip to work on an aircraft in Canada, Abel had the opportunity to sit in the jump seat on the ferry flight back to Philadelphia since there were no passengers onboard. After talking with the pilots, his interest in becoming a pilot was reignited. They shared their experience and what he needed to do to get started on his path to becoming a pilot. After five years as an aircraft mechanic, Abel decided to go for it.
He began working toward earning his private pilot license and commercial instrument ratings. After achieving 1,000 flight hours, Abel joined Piedmont’s Cadet Program after learning about it from a pilot friend. “The Cadet Program offered support, coaching and held me accountable during time building,” shares Abel. After nine years as a mechanic, Abel joined Piedmont as a First Officer in September 2022.
“I like that no two days are the same,” shares Abel. “Having the overall operational understanding from the perspective of working as a ramp agent and a mechanic is helpful in my current role. At the end of the day, we all have different roles, but all have the same goal to transport our customers safely.”
To those who think they cannot achieve their goal of becoming a mechanic or pilot, Abel wants to remind them that he grew up poor and worked hard to get where he is today. “Being a pilot requires a certain level of determination and passion no matter where you come from,” shares Abel. “There will be a lot of setbacks, but if you love this enough, you will find a way to do it. There will be sunny days and cloudy days. Don’t forget what motivates you to keep going and stay focused on the goal.”
Abel is proud to say he has achieved his American Dream. He is a proud husband with three children who provided support and encouragement along his journey. He owns a Cherokee 140 airplane that he works on and flies in his spare time.
“My father wasn’t able to see all of this, but he would be very proud of how far I have come and that one day I will be flying for American Airlines. I want to find ways to share my passion with others who may not think their dream is possible.”