Hi everyone, my name is Autumn Cabaniss. I am from Ellis Grove, Illinois, a small town in the midwest. I have been flying for about seven years, and am currently flying part 135 missions in the S76.
What type of flying do you do?
I currently fly private charters for Associated Aircraft Group in the S76 B, C+, C++, and D models. Although the company has multiple bases in the northeast, I operate mainly out of Teterboro Airport (KTEB). The charters vary from airport bounces and corporate contracts, to casino drops and private property landings.
Once you gained your qualifications how did your career begin and continue?
Once I had achieved my rotorcraft instructor rating, I called tour operators to find out what they were looking for in new hires. Panhandle Helicopter was on that list, and found they were looking to hire another pilot for the season. I was hired on in March 2015. I attended the Robinson safety course soon after, and met the training captain for Zip Aviation.
I followed up with him right around the 1000 hour mark, and was granted an interview in April of 2016. Zip Aviation became my first turbine job and I remained there for three years completing an array of part 91/135 tour/charter operations in the Bell 206B3, B206L4, and B407GXP. After achieving 2000 hours, I looked into twin turbine companies for hire by inquiring with mentors and other acquaintances I had made while flying in the northeast. I was lucky enough to be recommended for a position and now fly for Associated aircraft group flying an all S76 fleet.
What have you found most difficult about trying to make a career in this industry?
Although I was fortunate enough to be hired on quickly by a tour company, the initial salary and/or hourly rate offered at the instructor and commercial entry level can make it difficult to pursue a career in commercial aviation. Being able to get that first thousand hours and find a turbine transition while making a small salary was the most challenging.
Do you have any future plans as a pilot?
I am currently flying far beyond what my initial ideas of aviation lead me to believe were possible. I was unaware of the incredible helicopter mecca that the northeast provides for aviators. I fly amongst the dense bravos with colleagues from around the world, and speak with some of the best ATC controllers in the country. It doesn't get much better than that.
Can you share your most memorable time as a pilot?
My most memorable flight was the first time I flew into NYC and circled the Statue of Liberty. Being from a small town, New York City was a place I had only seen in movies, and never imagined I would end up flying here.
Do you have any bad experiences to share?
I believe we've all had certain flights where we look back and feel staying on the ground would have been the better decision. The northeast provides a handful of challenges especially concerning weather. At times where it can change very quickly, we must be very precise in our predictions. Knowing whether to accept that last mission or return to base isn’t always black and white, but safety must always take precedent even when facing commercial pressures.
It takes real courage to look at the person who controls your fate and say "No." But passengers can be equally as difficult to appease. The best way to avoid these situations is to establish a no-nonsense reputation that makes it clear you will not compromise your integrity or their safety.
What’s your favourite aircraft any why?
My favorite aircraft is the Bell 407 GXP. It may not have two engines, but with all its versatility, the B407 becomes an extension of you; like wearing your favorite shirt.
If you weren't in aviation, what job would you be doing?
If I wasn’t flying, I’d have a ranch raising horses. They were a large part of my life growing up so hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate both one day.
Is there any advice you’d give to aspiring pilots?
Shake as many hands and make as many friends as possible on the way up. The people you meet will be your network of colleagues and friends throughout your career. People to be lifelines for advice, technical questions, and if you’re lucky, lifelong friends. The rotorcraft community is very tight-knit and getting involved is the best thing you can do to open up opportunities.