Richard Velez graduated from National Aviation Academy’s Tampa Bay campus in 2012 and is currently working for PEMCO World Air Services at Tampa International Airport as team leader.
As a kid, Velez has always been mechanically inclined. He found joy in building and tinkering with different things and in some cases would take apart or break something just to fix it back up.
Velez was introduced to the aviation industry by his uncle who currently works for Boeing and has over 30 years of experience in the industry. Velez was 19-years-old, trying to figure out what to do with his life, when his uncle recommended visiting NAA. Velez drove around the area trying to locate the campus and found the hangar at St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport by accident. He stepped out of his car and immediately realized that being there felt right. After touring the school and finding out more information on the programs offered, he decided to pursue it.
After Velez graduated from NAA, he landed his first job at AAR Composites in Clearwater making parts for Gulfstream aircraft. He worked there for three months before PEMCO offered him an entry-level position as an A&P mechanic. Velez had attended one of NAA’s career fairs before graduating and left a resume with PEMCO because they would be hiring mass amounts of mechanics in a few months. Luckily, they kept their word and he accepted the position.
Most entry-level graduates are assigned to working in the tool room or the seat shop when they first begin their jobs. Velez, however, was put to work on the floor right away as a mechanic where he could begin gaining valuable experience as an A&P.
He started out working in the cargo pit before moving on to engine changes and flap rigging and eventually into more complicated troubleshooting. Within two years, Velez was promoted to team leader. With this position, he is responsible for supporting the rest of the team and making sure everyone is on the right track.
Each workday comes with a different challenge. Velez begins his shift by allocating different tasks to his team members and finishing up paperwork. After the turnover is complete, he meets with his supervisors to find out what their milestone of the week is. After everything is straightened out, he’ll choose a job that needs the most attention and will devote his time to that until the end of his shift. Shifts can last anywhere from 10 to 12 hours depending on the work that needs to be done.
Velez’s team works on converting Boeing aircraft into freighter planes for FedEx. These planes are meant to hold cargo and are characterized by their huge doors that are 11 feet wide and about 10 feet tall. Aside from conversions, PEMCO does heavy maintenance on aircraft for JetBlue, Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant airlines.
For Velez, the most rewarding part of being an A&P mechanic is watching the airplanes him and his team worked on fly through the sky. “You see the gears go up and it comes back from the test flight and everything is good,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. It means what I did was right and nobody will get hurt.”
Velez recognizes the fact that his job is not something everyone can do. It takes a very special person with a lot of patience and perseverance to do work of an A&P mechanic. His advice to future and current students is to go into a job with an open mind, a humble heart and the willingness to learn from others. New grads will not know everything when they begin a job and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is important to listen to the advice of others and be patient when you’re proven wrong.
“Listen and respect because people were there before you and they’ve seen it more than you have,” said Velez. “You can put in your input, but don’t get mad when they tell you you’re wrong. You can always be proven wrong. I’ve been proven wrong so many times and you just have to accept it. Somebody will always know more than you.”