As far back as he can remember, First Officer Juan Loja aspired to be a pilot. Growing up in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, he didn’t know anyone who could help him understand aviation or what was required to become a pilot. “I thought it was impossible,” recalls Juan.
Juan’s family moved to New York City when he was a teenager. Not able to speak English, his career options were limited when he graduated high school until a friend suggested he research joining the United States Navy. Serving in the Navy opened a new, exciting world for Juan where he received his United States citizenship, conquered the language barrier, and forged a path to a successful career in aviation.
Juan attributes his success to the invaluable skills he acquired during his time in the Navy. The military taught him crucial life and work skills, such as the importance of mentorship, fostering a sense of community, taking advantage of opportunities to advance, and teamwork, all of which continue to serve him well in his current role.
Juan’s first duty station was Norfolk, Virginia where he served aboard the USS Enterprise and the USS Harry S. Truman, including four deployments to the Persian Gulf. He progressed to become an aircraft mechanic for the E-2 Hawkeye airplane and S-3 Viking airplane and after five years, he transferred to Jacksonville, Florida where he worked on the Viking’s engines.
In the military, Juan learned that working with a team fosters a sense of community and belonging. “When you are deployed with other people, they become your family. Piedmont’s pilot group is smaller than a mainline carrier so, like the military, there is a real sense of comradery here. Having a good working relationship with my colleagues is important to my individual success as a pilot.”
In addition to feeling a sense of community, mentorship is a way to professionally grow from the knowledge of others and Juan found success in mentorship both in the military and at Piedmont. “In the Navy, your goal is to continue to grow your knowledge and work your way up the ranks,” shares Juan. Starting in the military as a humble dishwasher and progressing to an aircraft mechanic showed Juan’s determination and drive to learn and grow. He says his role as a First Officer is no different. “As a First Officer, I aspire to grow into a Captain role and eventually flow to American Airlines.” He sees the importance in mentoring through Piedmont’s formal mentoring program for pilots that has helped him to grow professionally. “We are only as strong as the weakest link so it’s important to help those around you succeed by sharing the knowledge.”
After serving in the Navy for nine years, Juan used money from the GI Bill to earn his bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of North Florida and began working at the university as an immigration specialist. During this time, he joined the Army Reserve as a logistics manager and obtained his private pilot’s license. Twelve years later, his position at the university was eliminated, and he decided to begin working at Florida Flyers, a flight school in St. Augustine, Florida as a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) to build his hours toward his commercial ratings.
Juan joined Piedmont in November 2021 and feels like part of a family. “My experience has been great here,” shares Juan proudly. “As a smaller regional airline, we have a small community of pilots and because of that, we are close to one another. I am part of an exceptional team of mentors who share my eagerness to excel in aviation, and a crew that prioritizes passenger safety above all else. Piedmont is truly a pipeline of incredible opportunities for those who, like me, dream of making aviation their civilian career.”
Piedmont is dedicated to actively reaching out to veterans through collaborations with non-profit organizations, targeted advertising in military publications, and participation in virtual and in-person career fairs. If you are a veteran or military spouse interested in working for an airline that wholeheartedly supports our military families, we encourage you to join us at Piedmont. Click here to view our current openings.