Greek Girls Can Fly!
Meet Magdalini Kotsalis. She is only 20 years old. While other women her age are deciding on a major or what to do with their lives, she’s clocked in 300 hours of flight at 10,000 feet! “One of the greatest things is to be able to say to my friends ‘I just flew a plane,’ and they would say, ‘I turned over a page in my textbook. ‘”
Of course, it helped that Magdalini came from a family of flight. Her father was a pilot and flight instructor, her grandfather was a flight instructor, her uncles are air traffic controllers. (“My poor mother, she states, she’s the only one not in aviation; she’s a cosmetologist.”) She remembers telling her father to take her to the runways LaGuardia Airport to watch the planes take off and land. As she was the only child and only daughter, she carried on the aviation tradition. Her father tended to be very supportive of her decision. “Go be a pilot,” he told her during one of their “what am I going to do with my life?” talks, so she took him seriously.
Magdalini is your typical Greek-American girl: born in Astoria, raised in Bayside, she moved to Thessaloniki after 8th grade when her parents made the decision to move back to the home country because they missed family. Her thick Greek-American accent gave her away as an “Amerikana” to the Greeks in Ellas as did her deficient Greek grammar. As a result she had to attend private American schools eventually graduating with an International Baccalaureate from Anatolia College. She stood out as a rarity in her graduating high school class: she was the only girl out of her graduating class of 400 to want to be a professional pilot. She wanted to be a pilot to literally be a trail-blazer. Because there are so few female pilots around, her very presence would make a statement. “Imagine the impact if you were on a commercial flight and you heard over the loud speaker, ‘Good afternoon ladies and gentleman. My name is Magdalini Kotsalis. I am your captain on today’s flight.’ You would take notice immediately that the captain is a woman,” Magdalini explains.
As it was too expensive to complete her flight training in Greece (it totaled over 50,000 Euros!), she returned to the US, barely 18, all by herself to start training at a flight academy in Daytona Beach, Florida. The requirements to become a pilot are fairly straightforward. In fact, one does not even need a college degree. The FAA, the governing body that regulates pilots, only looks at one’s licenses and the practical experience of flying. That’s also what most of the commercial airlines look at, not whether you have a college degree or that you can theoretically explain the physics of flights. They just want to be assured you can fly a plane under various conditions in the sky.
The steps to becoming a pilot are straight forward as well. One must first get her private pilot license. This involves clocking in 70 hours of flight time and passing an exam. After this, there are two paths to take: the commercial route or the instrument rating route; both require an additional 30 hours of flight time for a minimum of 100 hours total just for training. However, in order to obtain a commercial license, you need at least 250 hours flight time, and that’s when people “hour build” and take the plane up for a joy ride. Magdalini took the second path. This allowed her to fly at over 18,000 literally in the clouds all by herself.
“The most exhilarating feeling,” she says, “is flying solo for the first time. I remember taking off and looking to the right and to the back and realized my flight instructor was not in the plane. I was all by myself! This honestly is the best feeling in the whole world.” She has recorded experience flying over turquoise Key West at 5000 feet and looking up and seeing the shadow of a commercial jet over her. That’s when she realized she had made it: she was on the same sky-highway as the “big guys.”
And she accomplished all this, remarkably in less than a year and a half . Magdalini is a licensed pilot flying the friendly skies.
Magdalini is currently working on getting her flight instructor license. Her ultimate goal is to become a flight examiner (just like the testors who sit in the passenger seat on your road test and decide whether you get a driver’s license or not.) She encourages other Greek women, and women in general, to look into a career as a pilot. She cites there is a pilot shortage in the US and predicts it will get worse in the next five years as many current pilots are due to retire. Even if not considering a full-fledged career in aviation, Magdalini advises, “You have to try it! Do at least 1 hour of flight training in your life.”
There’s a few good places to do it in the NYC tri-state area, but she recommends the flight academies around Tetterboro, New Jersey where her father trained. An hour lesson runs approximately $120 and a half hour a mere $50.
For something that seems so dangerous and so daring, learning to fly is surprisingly do-able. You get the the impression from talking to Madgalini that anyone and everyone should learn to fly. What about those who have a fear of flying? Magdalini’s answer to that is knowledge. “When you learn the physics and the facts behind flying, you calm down,” she states. She tells how she talked a girlfriend who had been terrified of flying as she had lost a family member in a flight accident out of her fear. Magdalini explained that turbulence is normal and that a plane can never really drop dead-bolt from the sky even if the motor stopped running. It would only slow down and lose altitude gradually. She fought her fear with facts. Her friend boarded a plane.
What does Magdalini have to say to those who believe women should not be in a cockpit but in the aisles serving peanuts and pouring soda? “You can’t stereotype like that in 2014,” she states. “I am a pilot and I can fly equally well as any man.”
To get more information about learning to fly either as a hobby or a career, log onto these sites:
www.girlswithwings.org: an organization that provides support for women and girls in aviation.
You can connect to Magdalini at : firstname.lastname@example.org