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A Conversation With A Pilot

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Michael Filucci just might hold Wichita’s record for the longest commute for work.

As a captain for American Airlines, Filucci flies to Miami to report to his job.

From there, he flies an Airbus A300-600 to places like Panama City, San Jose, Costa Rica, Santa Domingo and the Dominican Republic.

The commute from Wichita to Miami isn’t so bad.

“It’s really an opportunity to catch up on reading,” he said.

Filucci moved to Wichita in January when his wife, Julie, joined Cessna Aircraft as national manager for Cessna Pilot Centers.

Filucci takes the commute in stride.

There are other airline pilots who live near or travel to Wichita and fly to hubs in Denver, Dallas or Atlanta to start work. Filucci must change planes in Dallas or Atlanta to get to Miami.

He points out that there are other airline pilots with long commutes.

“I don’t hold the award for the longest distance,” he said.

“I’ve met commuter pilots in my career who’ve commuted to the East Coast… all the way from Anchorage, Alaska.”

He’s heard of pilots who have married, moved to Europe and commute to the U.S.

Filucci has never missed work because of flight delays on his commutes , but has come close.

Filucci learned to fly while in the Maryland Air National Guard, mainly flying C-130s. He joined American Airlines in 1986.

While he was in the National Guard, there were few job openings at the airlines.

“We used to joke that you had to have at least three lunar landings to get hired,” Filucci said.

Then the industry was deregulated, and there was an explosion of growth. The airlines needed qualified pilots.

Since that time, Filucci has lived through the highs and lows of the airline industry. He’s managed to avoid the furloughs that have hit some other pilots.

Timing is everything.

“It has nothing to do with skill,” he said. “It has everything to do with luck.”

Filucci has traveled the country doing air shows, flying Chinese warbirds in a routine with a partner. When his partner had to quit flying because of health issues, Filucci stopped doing the shows.

He is currently active with the Formation and Safety Team, a group that trains formation flying to pilots of restored vintage aircraft.

He and his wife own a 1946 Globe Swift and are planning to build a home and hangar at the Benton Airpark.

What do you see ahead for the airline industry?

“That’s the question on everyone’s lips right now. There’s going to be some consolidation in the industry. We just saw Northwest and Delta consolidate. In the future there will be more inroads (in the U.S. industry) made by foreign-owned airlines.”

What about air travel?

“Air travel (will) just keep growing and growing and growing. That will happen once we get out of this recession. (It) looks like the population of the world will keep expanding. (And) more people in the world are moving to middle class and moving up. (That will help stimulate) high demand for air travel.”

What advice would you give someone considering an airline pilot career?

“I would just make sure they go in it with their eyes open…. I would tell them it looks like now you’re not going to make as much money and the retirement options are virtually nonexistent….

“If you start with a commuter (airline) these days, which is a typical road young guys take, those guys are making $14,000 to $16,000 (a year) in starting wages. It’s a lot of hard work for very little return.”

Anything else?

“I would tell them if their passion is for aviation, they should go out and earn their keep in the corporate world.”

What do you like best about your profession as a pilot?

“I always thought it was the merging of the left side and the right side of the brain. One part of aviation is the technical and the mathematical side. The other is the art and the beauty of it.”

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