My name is Oana Pop and my journey to becoming an L3Harris Theoretical Knowledge Instructor has been a long and eventful one that has taken me to the other side of the world and back!
My pursuit to an aviation career began at an early age, being mostly inspired by my dad. I grew up in a modest family in Romania where my dad was always telling me stories about airplanes, flying and about his experiences during his military service as part of the air force. I was always absorbed by these stories and even though there were no opportunities in Romania when I grew up, I always kept this dream alive.
It was not until university that a chance came for me to join the Romanian Aero Club gliding team. I was absolutely ecstatic to have found this opportunity and could not wait for winter to pass and for the flying to start.
I will never forget that day in April 2009 when I convinced one of the instructors at the aeroclub to take me up in a glider - from that very first flight I fell in love with it and I knew that this was what I wanted to do in life.
I had to work twice as hard to keep up my university studies and be at the airfield every day, but eventually it paid off and I was one of the few who achieved their gliding licence during the first year. My instructor saw my passion and motivation for aviation and encouraged me to pursue a career as a pilot. I searched long and hard for an opportunity, but I couldn’t afford any of the flight schools in Europe at the time.
However, in February 2012, after graduating from university I was awarded a scholarship to study a two-year Associate Degree in Aviation at the Aerospace Training Centre of Polytechnic West in Australia. The scholarship did not cover flight training, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss so I left everything behind, and moved to Perth, Western Australia, in pursuit of my dreams.
What followed were the best years of my life. It wasn’t easy but I was determined to get my commercial licence. I took a part-time job in a restaurant to save up enough money to start the flight training. I was studying full time, working part time and flying as much as the weather and my finances allowed, and even though it was very challenging I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My hard work paid off and in 2014 when I graduated and was nominated for the international student of the year award and the director of the Aerospace Training Centre offered me a job as a ground school instructor. I worked from April 2014 until August 2017, teaching a range of subjects from aeronautics to airport management and ground operations, as well as aviation English and tutoring for international students. Even though it was an extremely busy and challenging time for me as I tried to balance work, my own studies and flight training, I found teaching very rewarding!
Seeing my cadets succeed and helping those struggling with aviation terminology was indeed an experience I will never forget or regret.
During this time, I also completed my commercial licence - in January 2015 - followed by the ME/IR. I spent as much time as I could at the flight school where the chief pilot saw my passion and recommended me for a part-time position at a fixed base Boeing 777 simulator experience centre. This opportunity allowed me to get hands-on experience with jet engine aircraft while teaching customers how to fly or acting as a First Officer for pilots who came to prepare for job interviews.
Due to changes in the Australia visa system I returned to Europe at the end of 2017 and had to go through the process of converting my ICAO licence to an EASA licence, which meant theory exams flight training and skills tests. In January 2018 I moved to the UK for my new job as a Theoretical Knowledge Instructor at L3Harris Airline Academy and used my own study experience to encourage cadets to keep going despite the challenges.
However, my own personal trials were far from over because doing the required flight training for the licence conversion proved to be the most complicated part. I was caught in a whirlwind of miscommunication, erroneous information and negative altitudes and winter weather. I felt like giving up, but I was blessed to have wonderful people around me such as my work colleagues at L3Harris and my family, who encouraged me to keep going. In tough times just one kind word can mean the world to the person who is struggling and that’s how it was for me. With my renewed motivation I decided to take two weeks off and go to Greece to finish my licence conversion. It was a wonderful experience and reignited my love of flying and reminded why I should not let anything stop me from pursuing my dreams.
On my return to the UK I continued my work as a TKI because it brings me joy to see people succeed knowing I played a part in their journey. I also completed my MCC and UPRT training and was fully qualified and ready to seek my first pilot job, but then the world was hit by the pandemic... But I haven’t given up yet! I’ll continue to help and inspire others through my work as a TKI and when the industry recovers will follow my dream to the right-hand seat.
My journey has been challenging at times, but what I’ve learned is that no matter how hard it gets and how many times you fail, you’re only defeated if you give up trying! So, my advice to everyone, especially aspiring female pilots, would be to dream big and go for it. There will always be challenges and people who will laugh at you and try to stop you but let them be your motivation to succeed. Surround yourself with positive people who give words of encouragement. It might not be easy, and it might not be quick but good things do come to those who wait, and in the end, it is worth it!