A Young Palisadian’s Path to Becoming a Pilot

By JENNIKA INGRAM | Reporter

When Palisadian Dylan Port was only two years old, he asked his parents to dress him up as an American Airlines pilot for Halloween. They agreed, setting in motion a lifelong dream.

For as long as Dylan, now a senior in high school, can remember, he’s wanted to become a commercial airline pilot.

“I’ve always been hooked on American Airlines because that’s the airline I flew when I was little,” Dylan said in an interview with the Palisadian-Post.

He was around 13 years old when he tagged along on a business trip to New York with his father, TV writer Robert Port. While there, Dylan tried a plane simulator at an NYPD Aviation base.

“Hey, you’re really good at this, you should pursue this,” one of the pilots said, Dylan recalled.

“I hadn’t touched anything before that,” Dylan said. “That’s when I knew for sure, I wanted to be a commercial pilot,” adding that if he couldn’t be a pilot, he would work for Air Traffic Control, so he could still be around planes and involved in the industry.

Teenagers like Dylan with a passion for aviation are what the airline industry needs.

“An aging workforce, steeper minimum requirements for flight training and the accompanying higher costs are making it difficult to address fears of a looming pilot shortage nationwide amid forecasts of surging customer demand,” Judith Kohler wrote in the Denver Post.

According to a 2019 Boeing’s market outlook report, 212,000 pilots will be required in North America in the next two decades.

A couple of years ago, Dylan was driving with his family to visit relatives in Manhattan Beach when they passed LAX. There, Dylan noticed a man with a large camera taking pictures of planes.

“I remember thinking that was pretty cool,” Dylan recalled.

Knowing his dream of becoming a pilot was still a few years away, it occurred to him that in the meantime, he could still take pictures of the planes and have an opportunity to be around them.

He asked his family to give him small cash donations in lieu of gifts for special occasions so he could buy his own camera. Soon he saved up enough money to buy a Nikon D5600.

“I chose it because it’s simple to use, and it has an easy to use interface,” he explained. “It also takes very good pictures.” He started an Instagram account: @dp.aviation02.

Aircraft spotting is a hobby of tracking the aircrafts or their flight paths, and it’s often done by taking photos.

Dylan uses an app called Flightradar24, touted as the “world’s most popular flight tracker.” He said he’s met a group of other teenagers with the same hobby and they’ve become friends.

“It’s an excellent way to learn about planes and the industry of aviation,” said Dylan, who at the time of the interview was heading to photograph an unusual cargo plane from Poland that was set to arrive at LAX.

Dylan has also spotted planes in his own Pacific Palisades neighborhood. When the Palisades fire broke out, he spotted an MD-87 dropping flame retardant in the area, the first time he had seen one in person.

During one of Donald Trump’s most recent trips to Los Angeles in September, Dylan had a chance to grab a picture of the president’s plane, Air Force One. Since Air Force One rarely comes into LA and he didn’t know which runway it was going to land on, it’s a challenging picture to get.

Dylan said that most of the time, you can predict where planes are going to land, due to where their terminal is located; however, for certain airlines it’s not always so easy, adding that Delta and Southwest are two airlines that are tough to predict.

“The American Dreamliner is definitely my favorite plane, even though we get them at LAX daily,” Dylan said.

When Dylan graduates from high school, he plans to study at Santa Monica College and hopes to later transfer to San Jose State University and take their Aviation Management program.

He said making connections in the aviation industry is a top priority. One day, he was out with a couple of his friends so they could photograph a cargo plane that doesn’t usually come in. While they were driving back, there was a huge crowd of people with cameras by an In-N-Out. They decided to find out what it was and it turned out it was a meet-up for aviation personnel.

Through this experience, he was able to make connections with some American Airlines employees, who have offered to help him find work at LAX when he turns 18 years old in February 2020.

While he’s at SMC, he hopes to work at LAX as a ramp worker part-time loading baggage and pushing the planes back. The goal is to be higher up in hiring seniority by the time he has his pilot’s license.

In an effort to learn everything he can, Dylan is also taking an independent study physics class in high school which allows him to focus the curriculum more on aerospace.

It turns out Dylan’s future timeline may align well with an industry full of aging pilots: He explained that the industry used to be fueled by pilots going into the industry from the military and how that’s changing. Although the military is still the top employer of pilots, there are fewer than there used to be, shared an Emsi report.

With pilots having a mandatory retirement age of 65, forecasts indicate “nearly half of today’s pilots face mandatory retirement in the next 15 years,” according to 2019 Regional Airlines Report, with 15% of those within the next five years.

The same report conveyed an increased incentive for those entering the airlines as a First Officer (the second in command to the pilot) with a 150% salary bump between 2014 and 2016.

However, First Officers now require 750 to 1,500 hours of training, whereas before 2013, they only needed 250 hours of flight time, shared a Federal Aviation statement. A four-year accredited program is one of the options to help fulfill that requirement.

Dylan has lived in the Palisades most of his life, and he has two younger brothers. So far he’s the only family member into aviation.