Former FAA Administrator to Students: Find a Mentor and Enjoy the Day | Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Dan Elwell, a former FAA administrator and a pilot with more than 6,000 civilian and military flight hours, addressed an engaged audience at the Daytona Beach campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University last week, offering advice drawn from a varied and exciting career in aviation.

The event was part of the university’s Presidential Speaker Series.

Elwell’s passion for aviation began when he took a ride in the cockpit of an airplane piloted by his elementary school teacher, who was also a private pilot. He then graduated from the US Air Force Academy and earned his pilot’s wings at Williams Air Force Base, then flew for American Airlines for 16 years, also working as general manager of international and government affairs for the company. Aerial. Elwell served two stints with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), during two presidential administrations.

In a session moderated by Calvin Freeman II, a senior at David B. O’Maley College of Business, Elwell, now president of Elwell & Associates, LLC, offered students solid advice on how to proceed in a career in aviation – and in life. .

Find a mentor

“Mentoring is probably the most important thing you can do,” Elwell said, explaining that “professionally, I’ve been very lucky to have people I trusted and had a sense of. great confidence, and I used them mercilessly for advice on some of the things I did.

‘Seize the day’

“I’ve always followed the philosophy that if you can’t find a real valid reason not to do something you want to do – as long as it’s worth it, good and legal – then you should do it. Enjoy of the present!”

Elwell added that students shouldn’t limit themselves based on the opinions of others. He sometimes took steps in his career that didn’t quite seem logical, he said, such as when he left American Airlines before reaching retirement age. At the time, Elwell was a Washington-based B-757 pilot and also worked in Washington on aviation policy. On the morning of September 11, while on the phone with the Pentagon about his planned promotion ceremony later that day, AA Flight 77 crashed into the building. He had flown this same flight several times with the captain and flight attendants who perished on the flight.

Sometime after that, he received a call from the White House asking if he would be interested in a political appointment at the FAA, and he accepted.

Pay attention to quality

When asked which books were important to him, Elwell replied “after the Bible, ‘Zen and the Art of The maintenance of the motorcycle”… and “Fate is the hunter”. He had read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” twice because of its discussion of quality as an ideal.

“I’ve done many different things in my life, but I can’t think of a discipline that demands the pursuit of quality – attention to detail and focus – more than aviation.”

Don’t be afraid to make decisions

Elwell said that wherever life takes Embry-Riddle students, the ability to gather needed information and make decisions based on it is crucial.

“Whether you’re on a flight deck with seven crew members or you’re in the FAA executive suite, get the feedback, get the information, distill it, and make a decision,” Elwell said.

Elwell said some of the decisions he had to make at the FAA were extremely difficult and sometimes involved “wading” through politicized situations.

“It makes your focus all the more important,” he said, to make “the right decision, the safest decision the best you can.”

Enjoy Embry-Riddle

After spending a day touring Embry-Riddle and its flying facilities, Elwell was exuberant in his praise.

“It’s a school I’ve always had a lot of respect for, and that respect has exploded today,” he said. “When you’ve been in aviation your whole life and you go to aviation school, it’s like Disneyland. Everywhere you look you see the excitement of aviation. It’s top notch. I hope everyone in an aviation discipline appreciates what you have here.

Know that aviation offers varied opportunities

“In aviation you can have a path that’s not linear,” Elwell said. “Get out of this that you can do anything. I am proof. I don’t have an engineering degree. I have a degree in political science, for Pete’s sake.

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