Grad Q&A and reflections on 9/11 with Aviation Maintenance Technology grad David Lopez
David Lopez was 23-years old and working at Logan International Airport as a line mechanic when he finished his graveyard shift and headed home on September 11, 2001. His flight attendant wife, Erika, was home on maternity leave awaiting the birth of their first child.
David had barely gotten to sleep when Erika woke him with the startling news that an American Airlines plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. A little later, they were astonished to watch a United Airlines aircraft hit the second WTC tower. The industry they both loved and the careers they chose would never quite be the same.
What do you remember about that day in our nation’s history?
I was a Line Mechanic at Boston’s Logan International Airport where the terrorists took two of the aircraft (American and United Airlines) on September 11. I’d finished my graveyard shift and headed home to my wife who was a flight attendant and home on maternity leave with our first baby due. As soon as I fell asleep, she woke me with the news that an American Airlines flight had crashed into the World Trade Center. Soon after, we watched as United Airlines flight 175 crashed into the 2nd World Trade Center. It was clear that this was no accident and was an attack on America.
How did you react to this tragedy unfolding in real time?
I went back to the airport that night for my shift and the city was quiet and locked down. Police and FBI were everywhere, and it was clear that this was going to change everything. That day changed the aviation industry as a whole, as far as the security and protocol are concerned.
It was also a big change for me because I was laid off. Aircraft were grounded for days, and the industry lost a lot of money. Erica and I went from having our dream jobs to, just one month later, being unemployed and driving a U-Haul from Boston to Fresno. In December SkyWest Airlines hired me as an A&P (Airframe and Powerplant) mechanic, and we settled in with our newborn son (Evan).
What drew you into this career in aviation maintenance?
I was just out of high school (in 1997) and working as a Parts Clerk for a local airline. I enjoyed watching Aircraft Mechanics service aircraft and began asking lots of questions. The Base Manager encouraged me to go to San Joaquin Valley College (Aviation Maintenance Technology – AMT – program in Fresno), and that he’d promote me once I got my A&P license. I thought it would be a great opportunity.
This program was specialized, so it would be faster than traditional community college to get the A&P license.
Was the Aviation Maintenance Technology program at SJVC right for you?
I was happy with the school schedule and that I would (be prepared for) a license that would grow into a career. From my work in the airlines, I had several mentors that saw my potential and encouraged me through the process.
The people and friendships gained during this time were a bonus. There was a camaraderie between the students and instructors. The instructors were supportive and available for additional instruction, if you needed it.
I enjoyed being around other people that had the same goals. We were hands-on and getting real-world training and applications that, each day, brought us a step closer to the goal. The majority of the time you were doing what you would eventually do on-the-job. There were no surprises.
Additional perks of SJVC’s AMT program?
I also liked the environment. Being at the airport (campus located on site at the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport), we heard jets taking off and landing all day long.
The school had a couple of airplanes in the hangar that we were able to work on, and I enjoyed that hands-on experience.
What was the hardest part about the Aviation Maintenance Technology program?
I continued to work part-time throughout the entire program. I went to school each morning, then worked every evening. It took dedication and focus to stay on track and finish on time.
Did you have support from family?
I was young and lived with my parents, Miguel and Elva. They were supportive in allowing me to be at home and enjoy Mom’s meals – they were always a bonus.
My parents always had a strong work ethic, and I must have learned that from them. They always reminded me that “nothing comes easy; you have to work hard to achieve your goals”.
What is your career outcome these 20+ years later?
I’ve been with SkyWest for 20-years. I was promoted over a year ago to Manager of Maintenance for the Fresno base. I oversee aircraft mechanics, fleet services and facility maintenance staff. We are responsible for all Sky West aircraft that travel through Fresno.
Aircraft carry passengers during the day, so most maintenance happens during the night shift. The airline industry never closes. Our goal is to ensure that all aircraft are safe and ready for passengers.
It’s been a good career choice that has allowed me to provide for my family all these years.
What advice would you give to others considering education to reach their career goals?
I appreciate that the men I worked with as a Parts Clerk encouraged me and provided some guidance. I try to encourage men and women who are not sure what they want to do, and other employees here to research this (AMT) program. I want to pass along what was shared with me.
What kind of job security and advancement opportunities do you enjoy?
It’s a blessing to have been promoted to Manager of Maintenance, and I’m happy with that role. Other opportunities are always available, but in the airline industry, these often require relocating.
My current goals are to continue to improve processes and ensure our aircraft are always safe.
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