AT COMMUTEAIR, WE HAVE GREAT PEOPLE WITH GREAT STORIES TO SHARE.
Our “Featured Crew” series tells the individual stories of standout members of our diverse team whose hard work makes our organization unique.
Kalani joined CommuteAir after getting his start flying charters in his home state of Hawaii! Despite starting his aviation career to finance his racing hobby…Kalani will one day be flying for United Airlines…like his dad did! Read on to hear Kalani’s aviation story…
How did things get started for you in the world of aviation?
My dad is a lifelong pilot and he flew for Continental Airlines during most of my childhood and then at United Airlines after the merger. So right off the bat I was always seeing my dad going out on trips to fly for all kinds of reasons. He was based in Honolulu at the time 9/11 happened, and he had to move to the US base in Guam because the Honolulu base had closed down. He was there pretty much the whole-time post 9/11 and I only got to see him one week out of every month. It was really fun the times we got to go out there and visit Guam (even though the flight was pretty long). I first learned how to swim in Guam, so I have some good memories of that time and I ended up doing a lot of flying myself in Honolulu after getting my private license.
Describe your journey to becoming a commercial pilot.
After my dad transitioned into the training department at United Airlines in Houston, we were able to spend more time together…including in the SIM! I was just tall enough to reach the pedals, so if there was open SIM time, he would bring my sister and I in to work and let us go flying in the SIMs a little bit to have some fun! Despite all this influence, at first, I didn’t want to become a pilot – I wanted to race cars!
Being in the sport of motor racing is expensive, and the more I explored my options forward, I figured that despite being in High School, flying might be a good way to finance my racing career. I started flying in the summer of my junior year and was really enjoying getting my private pilot license (and I was good at it) so I stuck with it. After I graduated, I went to a Technical College that had an aviation program in Texas. I completed their two–year program and they took me all the way to commercial multi-engine flying, so I moved back to Hawaii and started flying private jets there.
How old were you when you started flying commercially?
I was 19 at the time – I could fly commercial passengers but couldn’t buy alcohol or rent a car! I flew charters in Hawaii for three years as a First Officer and I’m really grateful for that time. By the time I was type-rated in the jet it was really nice because I only had around 350 flight hours. So pretty much all of the time that I have spent in aviation has been in a jet, which helps build a good foundation for flying them. It’s a very different experience going to the jet from the smaller prop planes that you’ll train in as a student – In a jet the approach speed is faster than you’d be going in a nosedive in a Cessna 172! I’m grateful for the good foundation I have for flying jets, it’s made the transition to commercial flying easier.
What made you want to fly for CommuteAir?
Well, once I started flying for a career, I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps and fly for United. There were a lot of different regional airlines that I could have flown for, but the major thing that I liked about CommuteAir was that there were no training delays at the time, whereas other carriers may have had me sitting around for 8 or 9 months before my first SIM date. I would only be getting my IOE done right now, and I’ll be going in for my recurrent training next week!
What’s been your experience as a person with AAPI heritage in aviation?
It’s been really good, especially flying out of Hawaii. It was always great having the Hawaiian Flight Crew and Ground Crew and plenty of the passengers that we would fly were from the islands too. You could tell everyone would get excited to see so many local faces in the business.
I think that the culture in the industry is good and it’s just getting better as time moves on. The more inclusive that it can be the better, because aviation shouldn’t be something that’s trapped to just one kind of person or demographic. People from all parts of life are getting to get an introduction to flying and can see, “Oh I can do this too” instead of back in the day where it seemed like it was only a specific group could do it.
What advice would you give to the next generation of aviators?
One thing that I always tell people that are interested in aviation (it’s actually something that a United Captain told me when I first started flying) is that it’s a really great career to be in, but when you’re in training there will be hard days and times where you want to give up. But if you just keep at it and know that whatever you’re struggling with will come it’s all worth it in the end. The amount of fun that you’ll have in your flying career far outweighs any little struggle that you might have along the way…which is just a part of life in general!
I’m looking forward to upgrading to Captain so I can become a Line Check Pilot as well – That way I can help the new pilots out that are coming in! I’ve had the opportunity to able to gain a huge amount of flight experience in a short amount of time, and I believe experience and information is something that should be shared. When my experience might be able to help someone else out, be it an emergency or normal flying, it helps the industry become more experienced and ultimately safer, and that’s our number one priority in the air!