Julie Schell has worked with the Career Services Office since her days as a student. As her career has progressed over the years, Julie has remained in close contact. In her current position as Safety Manager for US Airways Express/Piedmont Airlines, Julie promotes internship opportunities to Embry-Riddle safety students and has taken on several ERAU interns over the years.
Julie shares her story and offers some great advice for students and alumni alike who are seeking opportunities in the aviation industry.
How did you get where you are today?
After completing my undergraduate degree in Biology, I began flight lessons on the weekends near Boston, where I lived at the time. When weather and general life issues slowed my dream of obtaining my commercial pilot certificate, I decided to flight train full-time at ERAU. I relocated to Daytona, where I continued my flight training in Deland at what was then called ERAU CATER and began the masters program in Aeronautical Science with a specialization in Safety. After completing an internship at the FAA FSDO in Columbia, SC, I graduated with a MAS in Safety and a private pilot certificate.
In order to break into the industry, I took a job as a Shift Manager at the US Airways Express / Allegheny Airlines Boston station. Because of my safety background, I focused on building the local safety culture and participated in the company-wide safety committees. Through my safety work and networking, I was promoted to the Safety Specialist position at company headquarters in Harrisburg, PA. After spending a few years in this role, I moved to Washington, DC and worked as a contractor at FAA Headquarters. I worked on such projects as the Whistleblower Protection Program, NASDAC (predecessor to ASIAS) and the FAA.Gov website redesign.
I returned to US Airways Express (Piedmont Airlines) for my current role as Safety Manager which I have held for the past six years. I wear many different hats in my current position. Most of my time is spent supporting the safety goals of the Customer Service Department. My responsibilities include being a safety information resource, investigating ground damages to aircraft and on the job injuries, moderating safety meetings, and ensuring our ground station personnel receive and understand safety related information. For example, in the event of a ground damage, we complete an investigative call which results in findings and, more importantly, preventative measures. This is a safety fact finding call only; it is separate from any disciplinary investigation. My other duties include assisting with emergency response planning, auditing, following-up on regulatory agency violations and developing and presenting training sessions.
What has been the biggest highlight of your career to date?
The highlight of my career is imparting safety information to the variety of people that work in the industry. To me, it is absolutely critical that I make every effort to ensure the safety of our employees, passengers and assets. This is accomplished through a multi-layered safety committee system, extensive training and investigations. Everyone plays a role in setting a safety culture at a company; the safety department’s role is setting those expectations and making sure that everyone understands their responsibilities.
Another highlight was participating in an NTSB incident involving a nose gear up landing. I had the opportunity to investigate the incident and determining probable cause. It was a fascinating and educational experience.
What qualities do you find to be the most valuable for those working in the field of aviation safety?
In working in the regional carrier world, the most valuable asset is prioritizing workload based on risk levels. Because airlines are so dynamic, new tasks develop all the time. Depending on the size of the company, you may have multiple areas of responsibility that all need your immediate attention. Teamwork is essential in getting the job done.
Successful aviation safety professionals are passionate about safety and are willing to go the distance to see measures put in to place to ensure a safe environment for everyone.
Enjoy what you do and you will never consider it “work”.
What advice do you have for candidates who are seeking work in aviation safety?
Network! Network! Network! Career fairs and industry conferences are good places to network. This industry is very small and all interactions you have with aviation safety professionals are important. To make these connections, introduce yourself and have a firm handshake. Then listen and ask questions, never assume you know best and collect business cards for future reference and to jot down a few notes from the conversation. During these events you can network with many people in a short time span and these notes will trigger your memory of the conversation.
Internships are a valuable way to learn more about the industry. Very few people get internships without applying. Prepare your professional resume using tools like Eaglehire. During your internship, it does not hurt to be the first person in the office and the last one to leave at night. Always volunteer to take on projects and to help others.
Due to the small size of the industry, we generally have contacts at other companies where you have worked. Always leave a good impression.
Persistence pays off. Because this industry is competitive, do not get discouraged if finding an aviation safety job takes time.