For 29-year-old National Guard veteran Justin Miller, the best part of being an airline pilot is the view from the flight levels. Miller recalls his first flight on a Northwest DC-9 from Detroit to Syracuse, New York, to visit his grandfather. “I remember looking out the window and seeing the Great Lakes, the snow-covered ground, getting up above the clouds.”
Miller’s parents were both ramp workers for Northwest Airlines in Detroit, and the family used its free standby travel benefits often. It was shortly after that Syracuse trip when young Justin realized he wanted to be a pilot. “I remember always telling my parents I wanted to fly. My parents would introduce me to people as ‘their little pilot-to-be.’”
But during his post-9/11 high school years, he realized he should probably have an alternate career plan. “It was a scary thought, that I might not become a pilot,” he says. Miller moved to Denver and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Johnson & Wales University. While in college, he worked part-time at Centennial Airport, and was able to earn his private pilot certificate there in 2008.
After graduation, he got a job in retail, but soon realized that’s not what he wanted to be doing long-term. In 2010, he joined the Guard with the hope that he might complete his flight training in the military. He served six years, all the while on the list for flight school, but was never selected. “It kind of worked out though, because while I was overseas earning a good living I was able to pay off all of my debt and start saving to go to flight school on my own,” he says. “ATP was always sending me stuff in the mail, and after my last deployment, I came back and had enough money.”
Miller began training full-time at ATP’s Centennial location in February 2016. Since he enrolled with a private pilot certificate and 80 hours, he was able to complete the program and qualify for his first flying job in about six months. For the next year, he flew a Cessna Caravan, and by October 2017 had accumulated the required 1,500 hours of flight time to qualify for a regional airline job. He was hired by Republic in December 2017 and is currently a first officer for the airline, flying the Embraer 170/175 out of its base in Columbus, Ohio.
The afternoon of our telephone interview he was waiting out a delay in Newark, New Jersey. “This is a pretty typical four-day trip. With weather popping up all up and down the East Coast, there are delays, especially this time of year,” he said.
But despite these occasional inconveniences, Miller said being an airline pilot is a great job that fulfills his childhood dream of flying. “Getting up to cruise altitude, at 5 in the morning, when the sun is just coming up…that’s what does it for me,” he said.