My Father, My Mentor

By Capt. Briën Schouten (Western Global)
Capt. Briën Schouten (Western Global), right, and his father, Capt. Thierry Schouten (Western Global), prepare to fly the MD-11 together.

Since I can recall, all I’ve ever wanted to be is an airline pilot and follow in my father’s footsteps.

I remember the day I decided to become a pilot as though it was yesterday. I was about four years old and was standing on the porch of our house in Curaçao with my father. A KLM DC-10 with an Antillean Airlines (ALM) crew—friends of my father—flew low over our house. As a young kid I was so impressed. I never forgot that moment.

My father, a 1985 graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), started his career flying newspapers between the islands of Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire at night and working as an A&P mechanic during the day. Soon afterwards, he was hired by ALM and flew the Twin Otter and then the MD-80. After flying the MD-80 for a few years, he got the opportunity to fly the DC-10 for KLM, as ALM and KLM had a working relationship with ALM crews flying KLM airplanes. He moved on to the MD-11 four years later and is still flying it today—28 years later!

Before I began flying, my father made me memorize a quote he was told on his first day at ERAU: “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it’s terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect.” It’s probably the most valuable piece of advice he’s given me, and I can still recite it today.

In 2008, I was 18 and working on my A&P in the Netherlands. My father told me I had two options: either follow the path he took and go to ERAU for four years or go to the Flight Safety Academy for one and a half years and start my flying career sooner. I potentially had a flying job waiting for me in the Caribbean, and my father explained to me that it’s all about timing and who you know in aviation.

I chose to take the path that would get me flying as quickly as possible, which worked out well for me. If I had gone to ERAU and entered the workforce later, I could have ended up like a lot of my schoolmates—not getting a flying job until aviation picked up again after the global recession.

I was hired for my first airline job at 19, flying the BN-2 Islander for EZ Air in Curaçao—a job I got because the owner was an old colleague of my father from his ALM days.

Every step I’ve taken throughout my career I’ve had my father guiding me—from flying the BN-2 Islander to the B1900D/Saab 340 to the MD-80. I’m the pilot I am today because of the mentoring he’s done and the example he’s set. And I continue to learn from him every day.

After my father retired from Martinair at 56, he joined the company I was working for in Aruba. The very first time we flew together professionally was for Insel Air Aruba on the MD-80. He and I piloted the Aruba-Miami, Fla., flight and some flights into Cuba, and I was able to learn even more from him.

At that time, I was considering applying to Western Global Airlines, which had just started up a few years before. My dream was to fly the MD-11. My father told me, “You’re at the age that you can follow your dreams and do what you like instead of what you need.” I started training with Western Global on Feb. 1, 2016, and am currently home based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

The best thing of all is that my father and I now fly the MD-11 for the same airline, as he was hired by Western Global just a few months later with a class date of April 1. Every so often, we’ll get paired up together, and it’s a dream come true for both of us.

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This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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