After more than two decades in aviation maintenance, Shawn Villarreal, Director of Technical Support and Engineering, says he has a name at Piedmont and isn’t just a number. “I’m part of something here and have input,” shares Shawn. “At Piedmont, people listen to each other, work together, and teams develop together. We work across departments very well and help each other fix things for the betterment the organization. Everyone has a say.”
Yet a career in commercial aviation was not something he had always envisioned. As a high school junior, he was on a career path in engineering drafting when a visit from an aviation maintenance school representative changed his trajectory. Leaning on his natural ability in electronics, he pursued a career as an avionics technician and never looked back. Twenty-two years later, as a senior leader within the Maintenance department he reflects on the journey he calls more enjoyable than he could have ever imagined.
When Shawn left home near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to attend the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA) after graduation, he was excited to start a career where he could use his skills in electronics to work on aircraft. While in school, he was Inducted into the National Alpha Beta Kappa Honor Society. Two years later, he obtained his associate degree in Aviation Electronics and was hired by Allegheny Airlines at their base in Harrisburg (MDT) as an avionics technician.
“When I started in the industry at age 20, I was just starting to find my way, but I quickly found my groove and enjoyed the work,” shares Shawn. “In aviation maintenance, someone can taxi an aircraft or help change a million-dollar engine which is a cool thing to tell your friends.” Six years later, he was promoted to avionics supervisor. As a supervisor, he established a warranty program for radar magnetrons on the Dash-8 and it saved the company over a million dollars in warranties. For this innovation, Shawn was awarded the company’s highest award, the President’s Award for creating a repair program to bring outsourced shop work in-house.
Shortly thereafter, Shawn was approached by former Director, Dean Hershey and asked to develop an avionics systems course that could be utilized for training on the Dash-8. “I was honored to be asked and successfully created and taught the course,” says Shawn proudly. Although his first instructional experience made him nervous, he says everyone in the class was complimentary. “A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) representative sat in on my second class to observe and he told me that teaching seemed to come naturally and to keep up the good work. It was meaningful to see the results of the training in the reduced number of avionics-related MEL (minimum equipment list) items and quicker repairs by those who I trained.”
When Piedmont started acquiring its latest fleet type, the Embraer 145, a Manager of Maintenance Training position was created. With his previous experience, Shawn applied and became Piedmont’s first Manager of Maintenance Training in March 2015. “Education is a different kind of reward,” shares Shawn. “When you see someone understand what you are teaching, and when you can share a different experience with them, it is rewarding. I can relate to those I teach because I have been in their role and can share my own experience.” Shawn managed five Maintenance Training instructors, an e-Learning Specialist and Learning Development Specialist.
He often reflects that training touches every department in Maintenance and is a great way to gain experience. “Now I was doing budgeting, teaching leadership and administering computer-based training which helped broaden my knowledge in all things maintenance.” He shared with his director that he wanted to continue to grow with the company and Dean worked closely with him for years.
When Dean announced his retirement, Shawn applied for the Director of Technical Support and Engineering position and was promoted in April 2023. “I look forward to using my background in training to help other teams increase their knowledge and skillset. Effective leaders share information and help guide their teams in their areas of focus. If you are an effective leader, you will earn the respect of your team and your team will in turn support you.” Shawn leads a team of five program managers, the on-call vendor coordinator and technical support administrative assistant.
Shawn recalls an eye-opening experience while teaching a class of new hires at Piedmont’s headquarters in Salisbury, Maryland. “I saw our former CEO Lyle Hogg in the hangar and went down to say hello. When I returned to my class upstairs, the students who had watched us conversing from the window were shocked that I just walked up to our CEO and spoke to him. As new employees, they couldn’t believe how approachable our executive leadership is.”
Shawn says a great part of being an aircraft maintenance technician (AMT) is the skills that are learned are transferrable in any maintenance area you go into. “If you like working on the airplane, there are opportunities to become a lead or supervisor. A career in aviation maintenance will take you as far as your drive,” he reflects. “There are opportunities to grow in all departments including Technical Publications, Maintenance Planning and Quality Assurance.”
Interested in learning more about aviation maintenance careers at Piedmont? Click here to learn more or view our current openings. If you are interested in attending an aviation maintenance school, click here to learn about our Tuition Payment Program opportunity.