In this interview, Erik talks about the challenges the airline industry is facing, with an extreme shortage of personnel anticipated in the future. He talks about the Rotary to Airline Group, which exists to help members of the military - with ANY background - to enter into this industry. He talks about why Veterans may love this industry, and how he can commute to work for free… from pretty much anywhere in the world.
Erik Sabiston is the Founder and President of Rotary to Airline Group, whose mission is to significantly increase the footing of military and civilian helicopter aviators in the commercial airlines. He is also the Co-Producer and Military Technical Advisor of Strong Eagle Media, where he has worked on four documentaries. And he is the author of the #1 Amazon bestselling military book "Dustoff 7-3 - Saving Lives Under Fire in Afghanistan”. He served in the Army for over 14 years, as an Enlisted Navy Reserves (cook), enlisted Regular Army (Crewchief), Blackhawk Instructor and Standardization Pilot
StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today is Erik Sabiston.Erik Sabiston is the Founder and President of Rotary to Airline Group, whose mission is to significantly increase the footing of military and civilian helicopter aviators in the commercial airlines. He is also the Co-Producer and Military Technical Advisor of Strong Eagle Media, where he has worked on four documentaries. And he is the author of the #1 Amazon bestselling military book "Dustoff 7-3 - Saving Lives Under Fire in Afghanistan”. He served in the Army for over 14 years, as an Enlisted Navy Reserves (cook), enlisted Regular Army (crewchief), Blackhawk Instructor and Standardization Pilot.
Can you tell us more about Dustoff 7-3?
I got sent over to a medevac unit in Afghanistan. I ended up in a mission there with an amazing crew. My wingman was shot up and had to leave the area. We ended up being the only dust up crew rescuing soldiers on the ground for several days. Newsweek ended up writing a story about it. People then approached me wanting to tell my story. I ended up writing it with Dale Dye because he allowed me to tell the story in a very truthful way.
I ended up doing some other entertainment and documentary projects. It allows me to tell the stories of other people. There are so many amazing military members out there that don’t get the opportunity to share their story. I also think it’s important for regular citizens to see what really goes on in these places.
What was the book writing process like?
Originally I was going to write it with a well-known, best selling author. But the publisher at the time wasn’t wanting to publish any more books about Afghanistan. Initially I got angry about it because I had locked myself in a room and wrote the book in about 10 days. But when I was eventually connected with Dale Dye and his wife, they were able to pare the story down and make it more concise.
It took about a year for the book to be approved by the Department of Defense. There were only two redactions. And then it was published by Warriors Publishing. But above all, it was just something I needed to do for myself. I was careful in how I executed it because I wanted to do justice to all the people I had served with.
Can you tell us a little more about Strong Eagle Media?
David Salzberg is the Strong Eagle Media person that I deal with the most. He is actually a veteran himself. His goal with the films he has made is kind of like a digital medicine. His movies are very focused on Gold Star Families and helping people heal from trauma. These films are huge blockbusters. They do them for the love of veterans.
David and I are working on a couple of other projects as well. One is called ‘Above the Best’. That’s the motto of the Army aviation branch. The movie covers three different stories. I think it will show viewers the commitment that the aviation community has to protecting people on the ground.
How long does this process take?
David had the original idea a long time ago. The process of going out and gathering footage and then editing everything takes a least a year. We’re very careful that all of the footage the goes out is screened in detail. We go through every frame.
How would you describe what you do for a living?
I tell other people’s stories through books and movies. I also founded a group called the Rotary to Airline Group. Our mission is simple. After WWII, the amount of veteran participation in airlines was very high. The amount of veterans in the airline industry today is much smaller. Typically it’s a lot of fixed wing veterans that are able to make the transition.
The real warfare in our recent conflicts has been happening at 2,000 feet and below. The people who have been really risking their lives have been military helicopter pilots. We’re flying complex aircraft that are highly advanced. So the aim of Rotary to Airline Group is to help specifically rotor wing airmen transition to the airlines. We also created programs to help mechanics, electricians, and other enlisted aviation individuals.
How can people get involved with Rotary to Airline Group?
It’s a real grassroots effort. We don’t really take the traditional route. We are committed to never charging veterans for our services. We work with airlines to form programs that will help take people with a background in rotor wing aircraft transition into work on fixed wing aircraft. We have programs for helicopter pilots as well as programs for any military member from any background. They are able to use their GI Bill to get training in the airline industry.
In the next 20 years, Boeing has estimated that we need 910,000 new airline mechanics and 800,000 new pilots. After a serious airline crash in Upstate New York, a new regulation was put in place that required pilots to have 1500 hours before flying passengers. The former regulation had been 250 hours. This additional requirement increased the shortage in the number of qualified pilots. So this is a great space for veterans to make their career after the military.
There’s also a pilot instructor shortage. Military veterans and former pilots are an excellent fit for these instructor positions.
It’s also interesting to think about this issue on the military side where there’s also a large pilot shortage. We really encourage people that leave active duty to stay in the Reserves. This will allow them to continue to get paid as a Reservists while continuing to contribute to the military as pilots.
Just to be clear, the veteran doesn’t have to be coming from an aviation background to participate in these programs?
Absolutely. Many of the schools we work with are telling us all the time that they want to recruit enlisted members from any background to go to school with them.
Can you give us a success story that you’ve seen?
I have a friend Richie Merchado that was a Blackhawk pilot. He got out about a year ago and had never flown a fixed wing aircraft in his life. He went through Envoy Air rotary transition program. He started flying jets a couple months later and he just recently made Captain.
So we are seeing folks transition to large major airlines within two years time.
What was it like starting your own non-profit?
The hardest thing was investing the time into making it happen. Any veteran can do what I have done. What my Board of Directors and I found was that you have to do all the work yourself. We put long hours into making Rotary to Airline Group a valuable resource. The Naval Helicopter Pilot Association -- we’re already almost triple their size and that’s only within the 14 months that we’ve been around. I like using this group to help people, that makes me feel like I’m doing something valuable. All the member of my Board of Directors and myself have had to wear many hats and just make happen what we need to.
I believe any veteran can do this. If you recognize a problem that you want to solve, you can really make a difference.
The best thing for me is to see people come into our program and then see these veterans get job offers from airlines.
Are there any resources you would recommend?
The most important thing is really just to have a passion. Surround yourself with people that know more than you and are smarter than you.
I also recommend you keep your LinkedIn profile up to date.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Trust yourself. If you’re going to do something great, you’re going to suffer along the way. Trust the process and yourself.
Also I want to share that the Rotary to Airline Group Convention in Fort Campbell, KY. It’s completely free of charge.