International Pilots Day: Enabling dreams to take flight

FEATURE
By Michelle Rose F. Lim
May 2, 2021

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The engine is the heart of an airplane, but the pilot is its soul.” 

As the world celebrates World Pilots’ Day, get to know three dedicated aviation professionals and proud pilots of Cebu Pacific, which has made the education of aspiring Juans one of its pillars to enable their dreams to take flight.

Beyond safely and comfortably flying passengers to their destinations, these aviation professionals also take satisfaction in knowing that they’ve played valuable roles in our nation’s ongoing fight against COVID-19, as well as during disasters—be it through cargo flights that carry much-needed aid and relief goods, or through sweeper flights to bring people home to their loved ones.

While the past year may have been difficult for every Juan, it is also during these turbulent times that passion in everything our pilots do, coupled with the best of the Filipino spirit, was made manifest.

A childhood dream takes off

Many young dreamers hope to become pilots and take to the skies someday. Captain Bensie Tan, the youthful fleet manager of the A320/A321 aircraft of Cebu Pacific, was one of those dreamers.

“My mom tells me that, noong bata pa ako, [when I still was a kid] I’d always say, ‘I want to be a pilot,’” shares the 35-year-old father of two, whose wife is also a Cebu Pacific pilot. 

Despite coming from a traditional Chinese-Filipino family of businessmen and professionals, Tan was made aware early on that sending him to flight school was something they couldn’t afford, even with his Aeronautical Engineering degree from PATTS College of Aeronautics.

Luckily, he got word of Cebu Pacific’s pilot program which includes sponsorship of half of the needed fees to get licensed. With the odds evidently being in his favor, he got accepted to the program in 2007.

“There were a lot of bumps and obstacles along the way,” Tan recounts. “What was supposed to be a 1-year course took us over two years to finish.” But his perseverance paid off, and he formally joined the Cebu Pacific team in 2009.

Tan also steadily rose through the ranks at the airline known for enabling everyJuan to fly: from limited first officer to regular first officer; to Captain, and thence as instructor and examiner; and now as part of the management team.

“Our leaders have steered towards the direction that will not only get us through these arduous times, but more importantly come out better prepared, equipped, and well-rounded than ever before—with the strength to face any challenge going forward,” he added.

An early passion for flying

As a young elementary school student, First Officer Neil Mark Enriquez would save his daily allowance so he could buy plastic model airplanes, which he would line up in his room after assembling them. This childhood hobby exposed him early on to different types of aircraft, allowing him at a young age to easily identify them. “I already knew what a 747 or an A-10 was. Or even an F-14,” beams the Cagayan de Oro native.

It was when he first saw and rode an Airbus during a flight to Manila from CDO that Enriquez knew he wanted to be a pilot—only that it took him a while to get there, graduating first with a degree in Library and Information Science. But thanks to Cebu Pacific, he was able to go through intensive aviation training in Australia to make his childhood passion a career.

Following his first solo flight, Enriquez is now a First Officer assigned to Cebgo’s ATR fleet. He remains grateful to the airline for opening many doors he would otherwise never have been able to pursue. “I'm glad to be part of a company that exemplifies its values by investing in their people, by fostering diversity, and equipping them for eventual leadership in the service of the flying public.”

The sky’s the limit

For First Officer Tiffany Piccio, being a commercial pilot was a dream for as long as she could remember. “I was just amazed at how such huge metal ships could carry so many people at such high altitudes,” she recalls. When she later saw a man and a woman in the cockpit, she realized that women could be pilots too!

Owing to the opportunities given by Cebu Pacific through a study now-pay later program, Piccio is well on her way towards reaching the peak of her career plans in the aviation industry, as part of the country’s growing number of female pilots. “I’ve met a lot of lovely women who are either studying or having a successful career as an air traffic controller, air force jet pilot, and even an aircraft mechanic!” she shares.

“Thanks to Cebu Pacific for not only making everyJuan fly but also for making my dreams come true and giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This simply proves that no matter who you are, no matter your background, if you put your mind to it, you definitely can!”

As the carrier celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, it continues to salute its pilots, crew, and other frontliners who play vital roles in enabling everyJuan to fly safely for #MoreSmilesAhead.

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