Hawaiian Pilot Credits Mentor for His Career Success

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer

Above: Capt. Jamie Cheng, left, and F/O Bryan Shirota in 2017, after completing an Airbus A330 flight from Las Vegas, Nev., to Honolulu, Hawaii. Below: Shirota, left, and Cheng in 2005, taken while Shirota was a student at Honolulu Community College.

Mentoring can make a tremendous difference in helping young people realize their career goals. Just ask Capt. Bryan Shirota (Hawaiian), who might have chosen a different path had it not been for a career-day presentation at his high school. Nineteen years ago, the 16-year-old junior listened intently to Capt. Jamie Cheng (Hawaiian) describe his experiences as an airline pilot.

“We had a flight simulator on our home computer, which I used a lot,” said Shirota, who added that this raised his interest in learning more about aviation. He engaged the Hawaiian captain during a large portion of the presentation’s Q&A session. “He was blown away with all the questions I asked,” said Shirota, noting that the two talked afterward and eventually struck up a friendship.

In short order, Cheng arranged a career shadow for Shirota, which involved spending time with the pilot at work to learn more about the details of the job. Prior to the events of 9/11, airline cockpit access was less restrictive, and with the approval of the airline an observation flight on the jumpseat could be arranged.

Cheng initially planned to fly with Shirota but, instead, decided to pair him with one of the airline’s most skilled and senior pilots, Capt. Al Moriki (Hawaiian, Dec.). On May 20, 2000, the two, together with then F/O Tom Hada (Hawaiian), departed Hilo International Airport on Hawaiian Airlines Flight 101 bound for Honolulu. The DC-9 left the gate at about 6:20 a.m. Hawaii standard time.

Shirota was hooked. He started taking flying lessons at Hilo airport’s fixed-base operator and got his private pilot’s license. He continued to build his hours and throughout the process maintained contact with Cheng. “He was my mentor over the years,” said Shirota. “Anytime I had a question about the next step or just wanted to give him an update on what flight certificates I had earned, he was always there, encouraging me along the way.”

The Hilo High School graduate attended Honolulu Community College’s Commercial Aviation Program for two years, transferring to the University of North Dakota where he graduated two years later. For four-and-a-half years, he flew for Pinnacle Airlines (today Endeavor Air) before becoming a Hawaiian Airlines pilot in 2012.

And in a twist of fate, on May 20, 2015—15 years to the day of his observation flight—Shirota once again flew Hawaiian Airlines Flight 101, from Hilo to Honolulu, this time as its first officer. “By chance, I saw the trip in open time and picked it up,” he recalled, noting that the flight was operated using a B-717 instead of the DC-9 he originally boarded. Completing the trip with him was Capt. Colin Himori (Hawaiian).

Shirota later flew the A330 for his airline, even working a trip with Cheng to Las Vegas, Nev., but eventually returned to the B-717. He upgraded to captain in January 2018.

Embracing the Hawaiian value of “kuleana,” taking care of something that has taken care of you, Shirota will be assuming the role of his pilot group’s Education Committee chair in the near future, overseeing efforts to help others interested in becoming airline pilots. He’ll be drawing from his own airline and life experiences, much like Cheng did, to pay it forward.

“I feel very proud of my accomplishments and thankful for the people who helped me along the way,” Shirota acknowledged. “I’ve really enjoyed my time as an airline pilot, and I want to do what I can to help others pursue their dreams.”

Pay It Forward

A component of ALPA’s Professional Development Group, the Education Committee promotes the airline piloting profession and mentors aspiring aviators. Consider becoming a member and making a difference by helping the union achieve one of its long-standing strategic goals of securing the future of the airline piloting profession.

Just want to participate in a career-day presentation at a local school? The Education Committee can help members with presentations, activities, and other resources. Contact the committee at Education@alpa.org for more information.

This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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