The many faces of the JetBlue Gateway program, from the executives at the company who conceived of the idea to participants from the seven college and university programs that feed it with employee candidates.
David Alpert, left, was an early participant in the JetBlue Gateway program, and signed on as a first officer with the company in 2014 after passing through all of its “gates.” Matt Holmes graduated Embry-Riddle last year and is currently a flight instructor at the school. He started the Gateway program three years ago, as a college sophomore, and expects to transition to either ExpressJet or Cape Air for the next “gate” soon. Photo by Amy Laboda.
JetBlue Airways is on a mission to inspire humanity to see aviation’s best face: Ask any of the more than 140 participants from more than a dozen JetBlue Foundation educational partners in its third annual Sun ‘n Fun airlift.
“I’ve worked for quite a few big companies over the years, and only at JetBlue do strangers walk up to me to tell me ‘I love your company,’” said Harry Spencer, vice president of compensation, benefits, and corporate social responsibility for JetBlue. Spencer was just one of a dozen smiling JetBlue executives among the crowd on the unique blue-and-gold Veteran’s honor Airbus A320 that the company brought to the Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo April 22, as part of its JetBlue Foundation outreach.
New this year was the small fleet of JetBlue employee-flown light aircraft that were nestled right up to the big blue Airbus A320 on the Sun ‘n Fun warbird ramp. The pilots were invited by JetBlue to tuck in and be a part of this year’s effort to expose the high school and college students on board to the best aviation can offer. It made a nice contrast, seeing the commercial aircraft next to a colorful line-up of general aviation aircraft that included a Chinese Yak trainer, modern Piper Lance, antique Cessna 140, and homebuilt Van’s Aircraft RV-7, among others.
“We are definitely focused on diversity in aviation,” Joanna Geraghty, executive vice president of customer experience and head of the JetBlue Foundation, said during the flight. “We want to increase the numbers of women and minorities in aviation and aerospace and Sun ‘n Fun’s STEM focus toward education attracted us. Now we help support that effort.” The foundation was formally created in 2013 as part of the company’s corporate responsibility effort to reach out and change the communities it touches.
A $25,000 JetBlue Foundation grant supports the Sun ‘n Fun Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) mechanics training and hosts Central Florida Aerospace Academy students at JetBlue University, the airline’s training center in nearby Orlando, Florida. The Central Florida Aerospace Academy is a public, co-ed high school with a strong aerospace focus located at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. It is supported by Sun ‘n Fun proceeds. The JetBlue grant is one of four the foundation awards annually, often to new or growing aviation education or youth outreach projects.
“All of these schools and groups we support come from communities that JetBlue serves,” said Bonny Simi, vice president of talent for JetBlue. “We award the grants where we think we can help grow the program. Many of them are very new and need help with accreditation—we can help there.” The range of programs supported runs from the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals youth summer camps to community college courses to full university degree programs.
During their day at the show this year, JetBlue’s students and advisors stopped by the Aerospace Career Fair sponsored by JSfirm.com in the Florida Air Museum, located on Sun ‘n Fun grounds. There they had the opportunity to converse with pilot, mechanic, and dispatch recruiters for regional and larger airlines, and Boeing’s Jeppesen aeronav charting division.
JetBlue is not new to aviation outreach, nor is its mission purely altruistic. In 2008 it saw the current pilot and mechanic shortage coming and created a Gateway path to help meet future staffing problems head on. “Our Gateway pilot program now encompasses seven schools and 3,000 students, and it is growing,” said Jeff Martin, executive vice president of operations.
The Gateway program provides a straight path for potential JetBlue candidates, beginning with pilots. They interview with JetBlue as sophomores at one of seven universities in the program, and if accepted, begin a path that includes mentoring, internships, and eventually, employment. The students will flight instruct a minimum of one year post-graduation, then track to either ExpressJet or Cape Air in the right, then left seat. Once they have 3,000 to 4,000 hours and requisite pilot-in-command experience, they interview for a JetBlue cockpit seat. Twenty-three Gateway participants representing all seven universities in the program mixed it up with the other college and high school students on the flight to Sun ‘n Fun this year.
Geraghty said, “We have aggressive goals for this foundation, from fundraising to the youth whose lives we effect.” That includes ramping up the outreach and touching 5,000 lives with aviation’s special magic in the near future, if Geraghty’s wish comes true. Those lives will look up and see JetBlue aircraft flying and feel good about that. Even better, the programs are mining new aviation professionals and giving them a taste of the JetBlue culture. That may just lead to some very dedicated employees, down the road.