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An unlikely aviation maintenance career courtesy of the military

“Of the four trades I tested high on for job placement in the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF), I decided to pursue aviation maintenance only because it paid the most,” recalls Piedmont Quality Assurance Auditor Tony Ellis. Never one to tinker with his car or other machines, Tony had no prior interest in any kind of mechanics. “It turns out that I found aviation maintenance to be very interesting and surprised myself that I was good at it.” That choice launched Tony down a path that led him to dedicate more than three decades of his career to aircraft maintenance at Piedmont.

“Joining the military made me realize that I could do anything I set my mind to,” he shares proudly. Although unsure at first, he found his stride in aircraft maintenance soon after joining the RAF. In his first two years of service, Tony worked nose to tail on Phantom F4 fighters before posting to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland where he worked on Buccaneer 2B maritime bombers for ten years. “I really enjoyed completing different types of repairs and checks on both types of aircraft.”

After 12 years of service, Tony retired from the military and moved to the United States where he began refurbishing and building flight simulators in Northern Virginia. While working there, he obtained his Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certifications. Two years later, Tony moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia and began seeking employment with commercial airlines as a certified A&P mechanic.

He had never heard of Piedmont Airlines before and had no experience working on turbo-prop aircraft. “I will be honest, I was scared to death at the thought of working on turbo-props,” recalls Tony. He stepped out of his comfort zone, applied and was hired by Piedmont in November 1992. His biggest challenge coming to Piedmont however was having to learn how to use a computer. He initially worked at Piedmont’s Salisbury, Maryland base before transferring to the now-closed Norfolk, Virginia base.

After working as an A&P mechanic for 10 years, he was promoted to a Quality Control Inspector position. When the Norfolk base closed in 2000, Tony moved to the Roanoke, Virginia base and later saw an opening for a Quality Assurance Auditor. No longer physically able to work on airplanes, he wanted to see if he could use his maintenance skills in a different way. He was promoted to Quality Assurance Auditor where he completes internal audits, audits maintenance vendors and participates in audits for the Department of Defense.

Tony attributes his success and work ethic to the invaluable skills he acquired during his time in the RAF. The military taught him essential life and work skills, such as communication, planning, and teamwork, all of which continue to serve him well in his current role.

Serving in the military transformed Tony from a shy individual into someone who can confidently engage with people from all walks of life. He leans on his communication skills when conducting audits, often with individuals from different countries. “A lot of planning is required to complete audits and requires communication with people I don’t know,” Tony reflects. The ability to create and execute effective plans, a skill he honed in the military, has proven essential in his audit planning. “Whatever job is put in front of me, I find a way to get it done in a timely manner.”

“As an auditor, I see a different side of maintenance that I never knew existed outside of the hangar,” shares Tony. “When you work inside of a hangar, you don’t see much beyond that.” He has had an enjoyable experience working at Piedmont and although he shares that he did receive a job offer from a major airline, he turned it down to stay at Piedmont. “I am comfortable here; I enjoy my work, the team I work with and have made lifelong friends. There is stability in your work at Piedmont; if you work for a major carrier, there is a possibility you may get involuntarily moved around. Piedmont is where I will retire.”