Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dream Makers: Everyday Pilots Reaching For The Sky


When passion and determination combine, anything is possible



Katie Pribyl
Katie Pribyl
Katie Pribyl speaks with so much energy and joy that it’s difficult not to immediately become engaged in the conversation. Her words flow in smooth bites—each one growing in intensity as she describes how she discovered her dreams of flight.

For Pribyl, energy and passion are part of her flying job. She’s the director of communications for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and her position entails the best of education and flying. “I work with the media quite a bit,” says Pribyl. “I do public relations work, I work with lobbyists on behalf of aviation, and I bring GA to schools and air shows.” Her job also provides her with a Cirrus SR22 that she flies expressly for the purpose of promoting general aviation. For Pribyl, the dream began in rural Montana.

“I grew up on a cattle ranch,” says Pribyl, “and I was going to be a veterinarian.” Active in the 4-H agricultural program at her high school (where there were 15 kids in her graduating class), she got to travel to Tokyo for a 4-H event. What she remembers most is the ride back to Great Falls in a turboprop: “It was my first time in a small airplane like that—it was probably an early Dash 8. We were getting rocked in turbulence, and I loved every minute of it. It was just so much fun!”

When Pribyl landed and walked down the airstair to meet her parents, she announced her epiphany. “I just said, ‘I want to fly airplanes for a career!’ and my dad was thrilled, but my mom thought it was just a phase,” she laughs. Unsure about how to proceed, Pribyl got advice from some airline pilot friends, and decided to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “To pay for it, I was going to have to sell one of my steers,” she says. “Where I grew up, on the family ranch, our pay was this cattle herd that we grew and nurtured.”

As a high school senior, Pribyl earned her private pilot certificate, and then went on to Embry-Riddle. “That was simply the best education ever,” she says. “Great flying, great instructors and a small, focused school.” The school’s internship opportunities led Pribyl to win a spot in the first regional jet training program for Atlantic Coast Airlines; she flew as a first officer based in Chicago for five years.

After getting furloughed in 2005, Pribyl was at Oshkosh with the FAA as an aviation safety research specialist when one of her former Embry-Riddle classmates told her about an exciting opening in Washington, D.C., with GAMA. She got the gig and has never looked back. “I get to go to schools and take kids to small airports for a day of learning about GA,” says Pribyl. She also is one of the experts in Plane & Pilot’s “Ask P&P” column.

Pribyl has enthusiastic advice for prospective aviators: “Be flexible and open to the different opportunities in aviation!” She says that, in retrospect, getting furloughed actually opened more doors than it closed. “I never dreamed I’d be working as a voice for general aviation,” she says. “There are amazing and fantastic opportunities in aviation in the least expected places.”



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