Nick Kleoppel’s aviation career started at a small FBO in Lee’s Summit, MO where he began flight training for his Private Pilot certificate. This led into a passion for aviation, which drove Nick to Embry-Riddle in the fall of 2005 to begin the Aeronautical Science program. Nick graduated in 2009 with his bachelor’s degree as well as his Commercial certificate in both Single and Multi Engine Aircraft with Instrument Rating. During his undergraduate studies, Nick participated in the Dispatcher program offered through the University and attained his Dispatcher’s certificate.
Economic uncertainty was still looming overhead and there were very few promising jobs available; so in the fall of 2009, Nick chose to continue his education at Embry-Riddle through the Master of Science in Aeronautics program. Nick specialized in both Airline Operations and Airline Management, making it a point to take safety-related classes to support the operations and management curriculum.
After graduating in December 2011, Nick accepted a position with Cape Air as a Part 135 Flight Follower with the option to move into a Part 121 Dispatcher position. During his time as a Flight Follower, the Cape Air Safety Department was beginning to incorporate new safety programs and needed assistance implementing them. Nick was asked to participate in the Internal Evaluation Program (IEP) with conducting station audits and editing checklists. Because of the expansion, the Safety Department was looking to hire a full-time position to manage many of these programs. Nick joined Cape Air’s Safety Department in December 2012 as the Safety Programs Manager.
Tell us about your current role at Cape Air and how you obtained this opportunity
As the Safety Programs Manager, I primarily manage the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and IEP programs as well as participate in general safety investigations, projects, and campaigns. On the ASAP side, I facilitate Event Review Committee (ERC) meetings between company, union, and FAA representatives to discuss safety reports and develop corrective actions. I track all ERC corrective actions and recommendations and ensure their implementation. When in the IEP manager role, I develop checklists, audit schedules, audit plans, auditor training, and any other documents needed to successfully conduct audits and evaluations.
I was able to connect with Cape Air through a network of professors/friends who knew many of the individuals working at Cape Air. Their recommendations and references provided me the foot in the door I needed to get my aviation career up and running.
As a recent graduate now in the aviation industry, what were some challenges you encountered.
One of the greatest challenges I faced upon searching for a career was the “catch 22” of the aviation industry. Most aviation jobs sought by recent college graduates with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree require experience in order to get hired; however, there are limited opportunities that provide the experience you need. Many college graduates with bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees may not want to take entry-level positions because of the education and degrees they have received. Many may believe they deserve supervisor or management level positions.
Another challenge was looking for jobs in the Florida area so that I could remain local and not have to relocate. The problem arises when so many students graduate from Embry-Riddle each year with the same degrees and flight experiences. Most aviation jobs in Florida receive multiple applications from ERAU graduates who all have the same resume. There is very little that separates each resume besides the name of the applicant. Both of these challenges make it difficult to get your foot in the door with a company.
What helped me to get my foot in the door was my willingness to relocate and accept a position that may not fit my desired career path, along with my network connections.
Now that you are in a professional role in the aviation industry, what advice would you give to an upcoming graduate looking for their first career position?
Do not be afraid to accept an entry-level position to get your foot in the door. I accepted the position of Flight Follower to start somewhere. There was the uncertainty of career advancement in the field that I wanted. The natural progression of a Flight Follower is to become a Dispatcher. Though I enjoyed the experience of attaining my Dispatcher certificate and was willing to follow that career path, it was not what I wanted. Therefore, I decided that experience was key, even if it was not on my desired career path. Now that I have joined the Safety Team, I realize there is no such thing as invaluable experience. The time I spent as a flight follower prepared me for the safety department by providing me the knowledge of how airline operations work in the “real world”, not a textbook. Through that position, I gained experience working with maintenance, crew scheduling, and station agents. I learned about weather delays, mechanical delays, passenger service and baggage handling. Everything I experienced helped prepare me for the safety position.
Many of our graduates have to relocate for their career opportunities. You moved from sunny Daytona Beach, FL to the Hyannis, MA area. What advice would you give on relocating?
Relocating for a job can be very tricky. My wife and I traveled to Cape Cod for a weekend to check out the area and visit the Cape Air headquarters. There are many months where the Cape is cold and grey, but the summer months are simply breathtaking. We were unsure how we would do living in a different part of the country, but were willing to try it! If you are thinking of relocating for professional reasons, make sure you are willing to stay longer than a year. Give the new job, location and yourself time to adjust; you never know where it will take you. It takes time to meet people, learn about the surrounding area, and to “settle in.” Every step in life is an adventure, make sure you take the time to stop and enjoy every phase. Most people do not realize they are living the “good times” until they are over.