Graduate Reaches Pinnacle as an Airline Pilot

Jonty Rich-Shea
Jonty Rich-Shea 01
Jonathan (Jonty) Rich-Shea ’01 says he loves his work: “It’s very hands-on, an entertaining environment, and very consistent in the duties that you have. I don’t go to work and watch the clock.”
That’s Jonty’s description of flying a Boeing 737 jet for Southwest Airlines, a 170,000-pound machine carrying as many as 175 passengers. (“At Southwest, we call them customers, not passengers,” Jonty pointed out.)
As a Maimonides high school student, Jonty said, he knew right away he didn’t want to spend his working years in an office or a cubicle. “I wanted a more hands-on approach — and I always thought that flying would be a cool thing to do,” he said. Indeed, his Maimonides senior project was a flight lesson.
After studying in Israel for a year, he enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL, earning a degree in aeronautical science with an airline pilot concentration. While a student there, Jonty was certified as a flight instructor, which gave him a head start on accumulating flying hours in order to qualify for consideration as a pilot by a regional airline.
After surpassing 900 hours, he took a position with US Airways Express, which was actually Air Wisconsin, a separate company with a regional contract. “Any airplane that holds fewer than 80 passengers is going to be operating as a separate company,” Jonty explained. “There are a bunch of them.”
“If the ultimate goal is to fly for what we call a mainline carrier,” Jonty said, “you need to have flight time in a jet, and specifically what is called pilot-in-command time, as a captain.” Any jet qualifies, but since most candidates don’t own a jet, “the normal career path goes through these regional airlines.”
Jonty needed six years with US Airways Express to upgrade to captain from the position of first officer — also technically a pilot — and start accumulating pilot-in-command time. Both positions are required for commercial flying. Much of the wait was a byproduct of the recession — major airlines weren’t hiring, so captains and first officers remained with regional carriers. Also, the mandatory retirement age for pilots changed from 60 to 65.
Air Wisconsin’s 70 airplanes followed routes far beyond that state, crisscrossing the entire eastern half of North America. “I’ve been to lots of airports — and lots of hotels,” he acknowledged.
After two years as a captain, in the summer of 2015 Jonty began his career with Southwest Airlines. “This always was my goal,” he said. “Once I learned the industry, and through talking to other pilots, Southwest was my number one choice.”
He’s a first officer again, but is optimistic about moving up through his union’s seniority structure. “We’re losing tons of pilots a year as the Baby Boomers are turning 65,” he said, adding that he hopes to fly another 32 years until he reaches that age.
As first officer aboard Boeing 737s, Jonty noted, “our training was pretty much the same as a captain’s.” On commercial flights, the captain and first officer split the piloting, he explained, with the first officer always occupying the seat on the right. “At the end of the day the captain is the one who makes the final decision on all choices,” he said.
“Part of what I do is to get the airplane ready,” Jonty related. That doesn’t mean engine maintenance or cleaning the interior; it’s tasks such as “getting the weather, loading the flight plan and obtaining the air traffic control clearance, and other essential work in between flights.”
Jonty and his wife Rachel reside in Phoenix with their two children.