Earlier this year Isaí Ortiz became well known when his Instagram account went viral thanks to his modelesque good looks and fit physique. But what many overlooked was his life long fascination with aviation. From an early age he was amazed by, as he says, “how such a big piece of metal could be held in the air.”
He imagined flying when he started sketching planes in notebooks in the first grade growing up in Puerto Rico, and that dream came true when he learned how to become a pilot at the Flight Safety Academy in Florida. He started soloing after only eight hours in the air, and, now based in Miami Beach, he’s a captain for a major commercial airline. Here he gives you the keys on how you can follow in his flight path:
TRAIN HARD AND SMART
As Ortiz found out as he got older, there are a lot of calculations and arithmetic that goes into getting a 175,000 lb. plane off the ground, keeping it aloft and then getting it down on the ground in one piece.
“You have to study multiplication, addition, subtraction, division,” he says. “Computers can do it and there are two computers for almost everything on airplanes but, they, like any electronic item, are not perfect.” That’s where having a strong knowledge of math can save lives. “We have to know how to do these calculations without the use of computers in case they fail,” Ortiz adds.
And once you learn the math you need to know for becoming a pilot it’s not all about looking good in aviator sunglasses and cool leather jackets. You have to keep your edge, day after day, year after year.
“Each year we are required to go into a simulator that behaves in great accuracy like the real airplane,” he states. “We simulate smoke scenarios, engine failures on take off, landing and in-flight, and we also train for unusual situations that include bad weather as a factor.”
Failure to pass these tests means you won’t be seeing the inside of the cockpit for a while. “In order to return back to flying one must complete the training satisfactory before the company let’s you touch an airplane again,” Ortiz says.
EMBRACE THE UNCONVENTIONAL
“Being a pilot is a completely different lifestyle,” Ortiz remarks. “You could be away from home anywhere from two, four or six days in a row.”
That means staying in a hotel and eating out more than you are sleeping in your own bed or cooking your own meals. “You have to like living out of a suitcase or else this is not for you,” he adds. “You will get time off, more so than the average 8 to 5 jobs, but you will also be away from home constantly. It is a trade off.”
If you’ve seen the pics of him in destinations like Brazil, Tel Aviv, LA, Spain, Mexico or Hawaii, or the selfies with celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Paris Hilton, Irina Shayk and Rita Ora, it is no wonder why for Ortiz the perks of the job far outweigh any perceived drawbacks.
“Though they vary from company to company, you can’t beat the time off and the travel benefits,” he says. “That has allowed me to see many parts of the world and make friends all over.”
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently disclosed that a 3.5% growth rate of the number of airline passengers means that there could be 8.2 billion yearly flyers in 2037, which is double today’s totals. It’s also believed that the global aviation industry will reach up to $33.8 billion in profits in 2018, up from $8.3 billion US dollars in 2011.
The only problem with this high growth rate is there is currently a global pilot shortage, so much so that there have been bidding wars in an attempt to hire experienced pilots away from their current employers.
Because of these trends, Ortiz says now is the perfect time to learn how to become a pilot. “Some new pilots are doing in three years what was has taken us about ten years to achieve because of the incredible growth and the mandated retirement requirement,” Ortiz explains, alluding to the requirement that pilots must retire at the age of 65.
Another reason to get in now is because the more years you are on the job, the better the job is. “Do not keep postponing it, because for your quality of life in this job it’s all about seniority,” Ortiz advises. “Schedules are done based on seniority (from the date when you were hired), as are promotions.”
Plus, Ortiz adds, you don’t start out as a captain at United or Delta right off the bat. “The process starts with being hired as a first officer at a regional airline,” he says. “From there you will upgrade to captain based on seniority and job demand or growth.”
The next step is to get hired by a major airline where you will give everything up and start from zero all over again as a first officer. “I know it sounds bad, but it is totally worth it,” he notes. “Then depending on seniority and company growth you will upgrade to captain again, but this time at a major airline.”
GET FIT, STAY FIT
One check of the shirtless photos on Ortiz’s Instagram account tells you these criteria are not a problem for him.
“Life on the road can be challenging, but that is life in general,” Ortiz says. “We all have the power to make it work. I try to go to the gym whenever I have enough time at my overnights. Every little bit helps.”
And it’s not just about looking good on social media. It’s about having a healthy lifestyle to do the job to the best of your ability—because if you can’t maintain that, you won’t be long for the job. That means passing up the fast food in the airport terminal and forgoing those beers from the mini-bar you tell yourself you need to unwind when you get back your hotel at 2am on Wednesday.
“Eating healthy is a must because we are given a physical exam each year,” Ortiz says. Pilots get a full check up, from everything from vitals to vision. “They want to make sure we are fit to be behind the controls,” he says. “There are some medical conditions that would prevent a person to perform the job such as high blood pressure.”
BE A RULE FOLLOWER
A lot of pilots first fell in love with the idea of flying as living from movies like Top Gun. But Ortiz says being a Maverick is no way to do this job.
“The most important thing as a pilot is to always, always, always be safe,” Ortiz cautions. “This is not a job to be taking risks especially when peoples’ lives depend on you to transport them safely. Follow policy and regulations. And that’s how to become a pilot. Happy flying.”