Being “the Only One” Fuels Adaptability, Inspires PAPA Community of Support

First PAPA attendance at the NPGA conference in Palm Springs, Calif. Left to right: F/O Brian Ishikawa (UAL), F/O Nigel Tam (DAL), F/O Tim Wong (DAL), F/O Harley Pasiderio (SWA), F/O Emily Ishikawa (UAL), F/O Jason Woo, F/O Chanwoo Park (ALA)

“If my life were a movie, it could be titled The Only One,” said F/O Jason Woo (FedEx Express). “Growing up in Malaysia, I was the only non-Malay kid in my neighborhood and playgroup. I remember being the only kid in my first-grade class who wanted to be a pilot everyone else wrote down doctor, engineer, lawyer, etc. And being the first and only pilot in my family, I didn’t have anything or anyone to influence me that way, but somehow, at the ripe old age of six, I just knew I wanted to fly.”

Jason made the difficult decision to leave his family and friends behind to attend college and pursue his piloting dreams, as flight training accessibility was very limited in Malaysia. He received a scholarship to attend Western Michigan University (WMU) in Kalamazoo, Mich., thanks to an international student scholarship program created to increase diversity on campus.

“I learned very early on the importance of being nimble and adapting to the culture, people, and environment around me,” he said. “And I will always be indebted to the late Diether Haenicke, the former president of WMU, who began the college’s diversity program. Without his vision, there is a very good chance I would not be where I am today.”

While Jason felt somewhat isolated as the only Asian student in most of his college courses, the feeling of isolation began to lift through flight instructing and flying the line. “Realizing that I wasn’t the only Asian pilot was a pivotal moment during my time at Compass, and that led to the creation of the Professional Asian Pilots Association (PAPA) in 2017.” He added, “Many don’t know this fun fact, but most PAPA founding members were Compass pilots.”

Jason continues to volunteer as a board member, and he is excited that PAPA is working with the Air Line Pilots Association’s President’s Committee for Diversity & Inclusion to help break down barriers and increase diversity in the flight deck. While he can still count on one hand the number of times that he has flown with a fellow Asian pilot in a crew environment, Jason is optimistic about the future of the profession: “I am humbled and honored to be a part of this movement.”

Offering words of advice to those who find themselves discouraged by being “the only one” in whatever situation they face, Jason urges all to persevere and stay the course no matter how overwhelming the obstacles may seem. He offers this quote from Christopher Reeve, which has inspired him for many years: “At first, your dreams may seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when you summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”

F/O Jason Woo with a FedEx 757 in Grand Junction, Colo.
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