Q&A with Ryan Ellenson, Air Wisconsin Airlines pilot
This 29-year-old Waukesha native is flying regional jets in and out of some of the busiest airports in the country.
When and why did you attend FVTC?
I started in the summer of 2001 and graduated in the spring of 2003. I had always wanted to fly, but I was still working at a machine shop two years after high school. I figured it was a lot more financially feasible to get an apprenticeship in the trades than go to college. Then I came across FVTC. It was nice to know that I could actually go on and do something I really wanted to do.
What degree did you earn?
I earned a two-year Associate degree in Aeronautics Pilot Training. When I graduated, there wasn’t a whole lot out there to choose from because the airline industry hadn’t recovered from the September 11 attacks. So I started working for Air Wisconsin as a ground handler. To get more flying hours and build upon my experience, I did some aerial photography flying. I also flew skydivers from a small grass strip north of Appleton.
How did you get the opportunity to fly for Air Wisconsin?
A former flight instructor at FVTC who was in the ground training program at Air Wisconsin, notified me that the company was hiring. He put in a letter of recommendation for me and I submitted my resume. I was called in for an interview and the next day I was offered a position as a pilot. I started training on July 4, 2005.
What does a typical work week look like?
I fly 50-seat passenger jets. I usually work three to five days on, with two to three days off. All of Air Wisconsin’s operational bases are on the east coast, but we fly as far west as the Mississippi River. It hasn’t been too long since I’ve been out of school; sometimes I think back and can’t believe I’m actually flying a commercial airplane.
How did FVTC help to get you to where you are today?
All I had when I started was a dream. FVTC gave me the tools and experience I needed to earn my private pilot’s license and flight instructor ratings. I learned leadership and decision-making skills. Even though you’re dealing with the same kinds of procedures every day as a pilot, you have to think on your feet and always adjust because things are always changing.
What challenges are you facing in your job?
Anybody with a TV knows what’s going on in the airline industry. It’s a cyclical business, and the downturn in the economy hasn’t helped. I had worked my way up to be a captain at Air Wisconsin, but due to layoffs, I was downgraded to a first officer again. The biggest problem with that is the pay decrease, but at least I’m fortunate enough to still have a job doing what I love.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I just got married in June. My wife, Jennifer, and I enjoy going up to our family cottage in central Wisconsin. I also enjoy hunting and fishing and being outdoors.