October 2, 2022
Airways Profile Ep.10: Miten, Boeing 767 Captain
Airways Profile

Airways Profile Ep.10: Miten, Boeing 767 Captain

DALLAS – Welcome to a new episode of Airways Profile, where we feature individuals working in aviation and their unique, behind-the-scenes insight. Today, we welcome today’s guest, Boeing 767 pilot, Miten Patel.

Ok, I’ve just said your name, but for the sake of the entire interview, I have to ask again: what’s your name, and what is your role in aviation? 

My name is Miten Patel. Currently, my role in aviation is as a captain flying a Boeing 767 for Air Transport International. We fly cargo for Amazon and some for the US Department of Defense.

How did you end up being a pilot?

My journey began in 2008 when I took my first flight to move to the United States with my family. My parents and I had no money when we landed at Washington Dulles (IAD), and our flight to Charlotte was canceled. So my first night in America was spent sleeping at the airport.

After a long night of airport camping, we finally made a flight to Charlotte, NC, and stayed at my Uncle’s house for two weeks. Thankfully, my uncle was able to find us jobs at the Econo Lodge where my parents and I did housekeeping. 

Three months into our American Dream, I found a broken bicycle in the dumpster. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and I was able to fix it. This gave me mobility, and I started looking for a better day job. After months of looking, I finally got my first real job at Ross Dress for Less. I still worked the night shifts at the lodge.

The path to my dream job started in 2010 when my family moved to Mooresville, NC. I managed a gas station where I became friends with several of the customers and would always have interesting conversations. One of the conversations was about becoming a pilot. I found out it only takes 40 flight hours to become one.

Little did I know it took over 1500 hours to become an airline pilot, but not knowing at the time was a blessing. If I had realized the cost then, I may never have set out to accomplish the ultimate dream. In 2011, I took my first flight lesson and worked tirelessly so I could earn my commercial wings. 

A funny part of my journey was when I decided to get involved in aviation in any way possible. I wanted to surround myself with pilots and planes. In 2012, I applied to be a flight attendant, but I was denied and forced to keep looking. I knew the key to success was just getting my foot in the door, and I was willing to work in any position that was aviation-related.

I applied to work at the Charlotte airport (CLT) where I was given an opportunity to clean planes and load bags for Lufthansa (LH). 

And that’s how you got into aviation in the first place. What happened next then? 

After achieving my commercial ratings, I landed my first job flying a single-prop Caravan out of Chicago’s O’Hare (ORD) airport in early 2014. Although the job was challenging, it set me up for success in getting the hours I needed to make it onto commercial jets.

The dream of being an airline pilot was achieved when I joined GoJet Airlines (G7) as a first officer in 2014 and was upgraded to captain in 2016. At G7, I flew a 70-seat passenger jet, the CRJ700, and I knew there was more to achieve. I applied at Air Transport International cargo in 2019 and was accepted as a first officer flying one of Boeing’s biggest Jets, the Boeing 767. 

My American dream was finally realized when I upgraded to Captain on the Boeing 767 in April 2021. Most people use the phrase “American dream” arbitrarily, but for me, it’s a reality. It is possible to come here with nothing and end up a U.S. citizen and have the job most people only dream about.

I am sure your story is going to be an inspiration for most of us out there. What was the most challenging aspect of your entire journey? 

The most challenging aspects were not having any knowledge of aviation and English being my second language. Growing up in India, all my subjects were in English, but we actually never spoke English at school or at home; learning to fly and understand everything was hard in the beginning. 

Your first job as a pilot started at GoJet. How was your first day at work as an “official” pilot? 

My first trip was from St. Louis to LaGuardia (LGA). I still remember being very excited to see the plane and fly it for the first time after my training.

At the time, it was a very fast-paced environment since I was just getting used to being an airline pilot, but one of the best feelings was when I landed the plane at LGA for the first time. I was very blessed and thankful for that opportunity. 

Words can’t do justice to how I felt on my first day of being an airline pilot.

You got two upgrades from FO to Captain: what’s the path to becoming a Captain from First Officer (FO)? What are the main differences between the left and right seats? Why did you change positions, accepting to become a First Officer again when you were already a Captain? 

The path of becoming a captain on a CRJ was my first captain job. Once I obtained enough experience as a first officer (1000 flight hours minimum), I could apply to become a captain. I then had to go to an upgrade class for 2-3 weeks where I got training on leadership and command and had to take oral and practical exams.

Once you pass all those tests, you have to fly with a check airman for a minimum of 25 hours. If he sees that everything you’re doing is up to standards, he will sign you off as a captain. After that process, I started flying with other first officers, so I went from zero hours to airline Captain (CRJ 700/900) within 5 hours.

My first flight was in July 2011. I was made Captain in October 2016 without having to take any loans or any financial aid from anyone! 

The reason I changed from Capt to FO on the Boeing 767 was to advance my career and better my opportunities. That’s how it goes with airlines. Anytime we switch an airline, we start again from the bottom of the seniority list at a new company and have to work our way up to the ladder. Fortunately, I was able to upgrade to captain on a Boeing 767 in April 2021 and was able to be back in the left seat as captain. 

From having zero flight hours to becoming a Boeing 767 Captain in nine years, this also was not possible to achieve if I had been with any other airline due to their very long upgrade lists with very high seniority numbers. 

I did a little research on my own and found out that no airlines fly the Boeing 767 in India, and that there were not many Indian pilots flying around the world on the type, so I can say that I am currently the youngest Indian to be captain of a Boeing 767! 

I was 34 years old when I upgraded to Boeing 767 captain, but this is just my own analysis from my own research.

Where do you see yourself in five years, aviation speaking? Still on the 767, or would you like to “try” a new plane? Forgive me for the use of the word “try,” but I actually don’t know what else I can use. 

I am thinking of applying to be a check airman in the next couple of years and maybe going into the training department in the future. I love to share my experience with new hires and learn from them while helping them achieve their goals.

If I want to try a new airplane, I will have to apply to a different company and start again from the bottom of the seniority list, flying as the first officer for three to five years at least, before I can upgrade to captain again.

That’s the tedious part about the aviation industry: no matter how much experience you have, you start from the bottom again and work your way up to the seniority list.

Would you like to see commercial aviation career mobility based on seniority changed?

That’s how pretty much every airline in America runs; it all goes by seniority. I have so many friends who have been flying for more than 10-15 years at regional airlines, and when they go to different airlines, they have to start from the bottom of the seniority list and start as first officers.

In the long run, they will make more money and have a lot more benefits at major airlines. Regionals airlines are mostly stepping stones for many of the new pilots. I don’t know if I would like that to be changed because it goes both ways. 

Let’s say when it’s time to choose a vacation week, those who are senior and have been with the company longer get to pick the first options and the days off they want every month, while junior guys get the leftover vacation weeks and days off every month, so in this perspective, seniority means everything.

Another example is that I am almost at the 50% mark on the seniority list at my current job. Let’s just say the company is not doing that well and they decide to lay off 20–30% of the pilots; at my seniority level, I’m safe. I hope I never have to experience those days, but in aviation, there are always ups and downs. 

I think we’ve already had enough ups and downs in the last few years that we should be good for a couple of decades. Let’s focus a bit on the Boeing 767. What’s it like to fly what is now considered an old plane? What are the things that you like most about the 767? 

The Boeing 767 has been around since the 1980s, I believe, but it’s still a very advanced airplane compared to flying CRJ and a few other planes. We can fly for easily 8–12 hours nonstop, for example.

Schedules are also very easy when flying in bigger planes. I think every pilot’s dream is to become a captain of a heavy, wide-body aircraft, and the 767 lets me live that dream. Sometimes, when I’m on a long flight at cruising speed, I ask myself how I got this lucky to have this opportunity, and I feel very thankful to everyone who helped me achieve this dream. 

That’s an interesting point I would love to talk about. What do you do when you are flying for 8 or 9 hours plus? How do you spend your time during long flights? 

The Boeing 767 can fly for long hours, but for us, we fly about 5-6-hour legs daily from the east coast to the west coast; and we stay domestic.

During those legs, when we are at our cruise altitude, we make sure to pay attention to lots of safety-related tasks throughout the entire flight. I always want to know where the nearest suitable airport is if we experience an emergency situation and if the weather is good at those airports.

We make sure to look out for any other traffic (airplanes) so that while both are crossing each other and maintaining a safe distance, our autopilot is doing what it is commanded to do, making sure all our airplane systems, like hydraulics, electrical, and air conditioning, are functioning properly and safely.

We also check our fuel systems once or twice every hour, making sure that we have enough to reach our destination. We should have 45 minutes of reserve fuel when we land. 

For example, a Boeing 767 can carry 11–14 hours of fuel. But when our flight is only 5 hours, we cannot fly with full fuel because we’ll burn more fuel to carry that extra fuel, so we will only carry enough fuel plus the reserve for that particular flight.

Okay, that explains a lot of things. Transporting fuel costs fuel. Speaking of the Boeing 767, what’s the difference between flying the CRJ and the 767? 

There’s a big difference. The rules and regulations are still the same when flying both, but the 767 cockpit sits up a little higher than that of the CRJ. All my experience flying CRJ helped me become a better captain on the 767.

Why do you say so? 

When I flew for GoJet Airlines, we flew daily, mostly 3–4 flights, but shorter legs, 1-2 hours each. So more take-offs and landings and more dealing with weather delays, ATC delays, airport delays, maintenance delays, etc. We also had to change airplanes every few flights on some days. 

During my five years at GoJet, I flew around 4,100 hours total. Out of that, 2,200 were captain hours, so with that example, if I did four takeoffs and landings a day on a four-day trip, I would do around 13-16 landings. 

At my current post, when I am gone for 2 weeks at a time, we only do 9–12 flights a month. But flying almost the same hours, pilots learn more when they do more takeoffs and landings compared to learning in cruise flight. 

That makes sense. Let me ask you something regarding being a pilot. In your opinion, what are the must-have skills for a pilot? 

To become a pilot, I think you need good hand-eye coordination, to be good at maths, and most importantly, to be driven and have a passion for anything you do, because if you are driven and have that passion, you can learn the skills and will definitely be good at what you do. 

Have you ever faced an emergency? 

Luckily, I haven’t faced an emergency yet while flying for airlines, but we’ve had to make some quick decisions more often than not while in flight. 

And what about emergencies in the sim? 

Oh yes, we have to go to sim training every six months, during which we pretty much face all kinds of emergencies: engine fires on takeoff or in-flight, limited fuel situations, hydraulic failures, single-engine approach, landings, etc. The worst one for me is when the instructor fails one engine in the turn just after takeoff. 

Out of curiosity: what’s the procedure then? 

So anytime we are in an emergency situation, first, we fly the plane; second, we recognize the emergency, if it’s the left or right engine; and third, we run the appropriate checklist.

We are almost at the end of the interview, so let’s do a bit of back and forth.

  • What is your favorite plane? So far, the Boeing 767 is my favorite plane.
  • What is your favorite airline? (you can’t say the one you’re working for) I’m not sure if I have one favorite airline because I live in Charlotte, so I always travel to and from work on American Airlines. They have a big base in Charlotte, so I can say I like AA.
  • What is your favorite airport to land at? Chicago’s O’Hare. It is always challenging to land there because it’s a very busy airport and most of the time it has high winds.
  • A plane you would like to fly. The Boeing 787.
  • A plane from the past that you would like to fly. If I got the opportunity to fly Concorde, I would love to.
  • Your longest flight. My longest flight is from Bradley, Connecticut, to Sacramento, California. It’s around 2200 nautical miles, and we had strong headwinds on that flight, so it made it even longer.
  • Your shortest flight. Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Chicago. It was around 10-15 mins.
  • The highest number of planes in front of you before takeoff, and where When I was at gojet we were at New York’s LaGuardia airport, we had about 49 airplanes in front of us before take off, took us hour and half in line 
  • The highest number of holding pattern before landing. This one has a story in itself. When I was FO at GoJet, we were flying from St. Louis to New York LaGuardia airport, and halfway there, the airport went to a ground stop; no one could fly in and out of the airport for an hour or whatever time they decided. So we were given holding instructions at a fix I still remember, MIGET. While on hold, we had to calculate how much longer we could hold before we had to divert to an alternate airport because of limited fuel. After the 3rd hold, we made the decision to divert to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania airport, which was the closest airport to our position, so we waited on the ground for an hour and a half to get more fuel and a new flight plan to fly back to LaGuardia airport. As soon as we took off on our cruise flight, LaGuardia went to ground stop again due to weather, so we were given instruction to hold at MIGET fix again. The Capt and I looked at each other, so we did three holds again and still had a ground stop, so we diverted back to Pittsburg. Capt. Lee Abston handled it so calmly that passengers were very supportive and understanding. I learned a lot from that flight and will always remember that day. 
  • Boeing or Airbus?  Boeing, of course and I haven’t flown airbus at all so I can’t speak for it
  • Two engines, or four engines? Four engines come in handy when crossing the ocean, but two-engined aircraft are so much more reliable nowadays that it doesn’t make a big difference.

Miten, I have to say, listening to your story really touched me. Moving to the US is something I’ve done not so long ago, so I have to ask: what is the American Dream for you? 

For me, the American dream is that, regardless of how rich or poor you are, you can achieve anything and everything you dream of and put your mind toward. There are so many opportunities for each and everyone to be able to achieve the dreams of their lives and provide a good life for their families. 

Are you that kind of person that every time you see a plane fly overhead, you look at the sky and wonder what kind of plane it is and where it’s going? 

Oh yes, no doubt about it. I always enjoy watching airplanes take off and land, especially when they’re flying overhead. Every time I am at work flying the 767, I still talk to myself about how I got this lucky, and I am always grateful and thankful for this opportunity I have. 

What would you say to a child who dreams of being a pilot? What kind of advice would you give him? 

When someone has a dream of becoming a pilot, I would say anything you put your mind towards is possible. Don’t let anyone stop you from achieving your dreams. It won’t happen overnight and will take time, but just don’t give up on your dreams. Aviation is beautiful, and it’s a small community where everyone helps each other achieve their dreams. 

Whenever you start your flight training, there will be 2-3 times you get the thought of quitting because some things are very hard or impossible to learn. For example, landings are very hard for every pilot to learn in the beginning. Some people learn in 15 hours, and some learn in 40–60 hours, so while some things are very hard to learn, I would say to not give up, to dedicate your time to it, and you will definitely achieve your goal. 

I have been a mentor for a few of my friends and helped them get their next airline job. I pushed my brother-in-law to get back into aviation. When I met him back in 2018, he had flown 30–50 hours in 2010 and had quit flying for some family reason, but he always had a dream of becoming an airline pilot.

Currently, he is flying as a first officer with one of the regional airlines, flying CRJ 700 and 900.

Again, thanks, Miten. Your story is something incredible, and I am really happy for you. Obtaining your dream is amazing. I can only wish all the best things for you. Is there anyone you want to say hi to? 

There are so many people who have helped make my journey possible. I want to say thank you to my parents, who always supported me throughout the journey by always being on my side and always being there for me in any situation. I am always so thankful and grateful to my parents, without whose support I wouldn’t be here.

My wife and I met in 2017. She is very supportive and always motivates me to do better in life. She is the best life partner anyone could ask for. She takes care of my daughter and my parents while working full-time. I am so thankful for her being in my life and want to say that I love you so much! Thank you for everything you do!

Jim Sisco and I have known each other since my first few flight lessons in 2011. Jim will always be there whenever I need help with anything, like financial, relationship, or personal growth advice. He has so much knowledge and experience. Jim will always take the time to talk to me. Whenever I have to make a big life decision, Jim is the first person I call.

Jim’s presence has made a very big difference in my journey. I can’t thank him enough for everything he has done!

Burt Dunlap and his family have helped me with my instrument rating and commercial pilot license, and I have learned so much from him. Burt has been my mentor in aviation, and I am so thankful to the Dunlap family for always being there for me! 

I want to thank each and everyone who has been there with me throughout this journey. It wouldn’t be possible to do what I am doing without all of them!

Thank you, Miten, and everyone for reading this interview. I hope everyone enjoyed this episode, and I can’t wait to have you on board for the next one! 

Until the next Airways Profile. Take care of yourself, and each other! 

Featured and all images courtesy: Miten Patel

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Social Media Bot and nerd AvGeek. My heart lives on both sides of the pond. "Stand clear of the closing doors, please." Based in Milan and New York.

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