Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Large Abroad | Jamaica-born pilot soars high

Published:Monday | July 4, 2016 | 7:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
Captain Ricardo Williamson wants youths to know they should never give up on their dreams.
Captain Ricardo Williamson.
1
2

It took several attempts before Ricardo Williamson could do at least one course in pursuit of his childhood dream of becoming a pilot, but the Jamaica-born professional never stopped pushing. A little over two years ago, he was promoted to captain at JetBlue Airways.

The 38-year-old, who grew up in Aboukir,

St Ann, moved to the United States as a child where he encountered myriad obstacles but indicated that it was his love for aeroplanes that propelled him to keep focused.

"I always heard my father telling me that once in a while you would see the aeroplanes flying where I lived and I would always be admiring them. I think my passion and love has always been aeroplanes," Williamson said.

"When I left Jamaica, the island, I went to Jamaica, New York. Went to a bunch of public schools, still having a burning desire to become a pilot. I didn't even know what pilots did or what their job entailed. I just knew I needed to get an aeroplane," he continued.

"When it was time to go to high school, one of my teachers said to me that there is a school called Aviation High School and that I probably could go and get some lessons to become a pilot and I said, 'Sign me up'," he recalled.

 

THE ROUTE OF MECHANIC

 

He was, however, left disappointed as he discovered that the school only had courses which taught persons how to be an aeroplane mechanic.

"When I got there, they told me it was one of the best high schools to become a mechanic and I raised my hand, saying, 'I want to become a pilot'," he said.

"They said, 'Well, we have a flying club here, but you have to pay for it.' My parents, who are hard-working people, couldn't afford to put me in a flying club, though. I ended up doing the mechanic course anyway. It took me an hour and a half (a day) to get there (aviation school). I took one bus and two trains," he continued.

"I completed it and I became a mechanic. I was fixing aeroplanes since I was 18-19 years old, and from there went to college worked full time fixing aeroplanes. I was working at JetBlue as a mechanic. I, however, decided that I wanted to be flying, so I would work pretty much night-time as a mechanic and then go home and sleep and then went to flight school in the afternoon," he told The Gleaner.

His schedule presented some challenges and, as such, he decided to purchase his own plane on which he could gain some experience by volunteering with various organisations flying sick children around, in addition to using every opportunity presented to him.

 

A CALL THAT CHANGED HIS LIFE

 

This paid off as, by keeping in contact with the management at JetBlue Airways, he got a call in 2003 that would change his life.

"I got a phone call from the director asking me to come to New York and dress business casual. My brain is going left and right, wondering what's going on. I get up there and in the room there is the director, along with other members of management, telling me that they 'like what you are doing and we want to create a programme to help other persons like yourself'," he recalled.

"I was beginning to take on to the programme. They gave me a mentor who was a chief pilot and I reported to him. I did well at that, and so they gave me legal access to get some experience and, this is now 2005, I got my first airline job. I left JetBlue and then came back in 2007 as a first officer, and three years ago, I became captain," he told The Gleaner.

Using his own life story, Williamson said he wanted to encourage youths not to give up on their dreams despite the hurdles they may encounter.

"I lived a simple life back in Jamaica. My mother told me that the house I grew up in didn't have electricity or running water. We had a tank outside, the bathroom was outside, but it was a good life," he declared.

"I do so many career days. I live in Florida and I will fly to New York for a career day just to encourage someone," he said.

"I was in the baggage claim area at an airport once and a young man came up to me telling me that I was at his career day and how much I inspired him. He's now in the military, and that's when it really hit me that I might not reach a whole class, but if it's just one person, I have succeeded."

jodi-ann.gilpin@gleanerjm.com