Bronxite fulfilling dream of becoming a pilot

Bronx resident Jesus Antonio
Photo Jesus Antonio

Bronx resident Jesus Antonio feels at peace in an airplane. Antonio, who immigrated to America when he was 6, will soon fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot.

Antonio, of Gun Hill, has a commercial pilot’s license and teaches students at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens. This year he will have a litany of job offers to choose from.

His path to the cockpit was not an easy one. He traveled 90 minutes each way from the Bronx to Queens for four years. But he told the Bronx Times the juice was worth the squeeze.

“It’s the best feeling to take something that was just a dream and make it a reality,” Antonio said.

Antonio, of Gun Hill, has a commercial pilot’s license and teaches students at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens.Photo Jesus Antonio

Born in the Dominican Republic, Antonio was first introduced to airplanes as a child when his uncle Salvador Mendoza took him to air shows. Once he saw those planes, Antonio knew one day he would be up in the sky.

On his flight to America Antonio was enamored with the cockpit and a flight attendant noticed.

“I wanted to walk in the door, but she stopped me,” he told the Times.

Once in Manhattan he told his parents about his desire to be a pilot, but they were not fans. Antonio did not let that deter him. In middle school he read books in the library about shuttles and watched aviation videos on YouTube at home.

His path toward the sky continued when he met his high school teacher at High School for Health Careers and Sciences, Ivan Diaz, who had attended Aviation High School in Queens.

Antonio originally wanted to fly in the military, but after speaking with Diaz, knew being a commercial pilot was safer and the pay wasn’t too bad either.

“He tilted my mind from Air Force to commercial flying,” he said.

Antonio still wanted to be a pilot, but flight training was a bit out of his price range. So, he started looking at other careers and thought maybe he would be an English teacher like Diaz. However, his older sister, Ana Oliva, was a teacher and Antonio saw she often came home stressed, tired and underpaid.

“I started thinking did I make the right decision?” he said.

Antonio went to City College from 2017 to 2018 and got a job tutoring kids. However, tutoring wasn’t for him, so he quit and worked at Banana Republic in Manhattan.

The clothing store was a turning point in his life. That was where he met Hazem Hassan, a colleague and a student at Vaughn College. Hassan told him about the school’s flight program, but more importantly how it was affordable through financing options.

Antonio was all ears and in September 2019, attended an open house at Vaughn eager to learn more about the college. While touring the facility he met Isaac Shapiro, an ex-Vaughn instructor and current United Airlines pilot. Not only did Shapiro encourage him to attend, but also helped him feel at ease about the finances.

“I asked him how much he makes to see how much he makes compared to how much I would owe,” Antonio said. “I made the choice that I was going to bite the bullet and go for it.”

Vaughn prepares students to be airline pilots, instructors or work in ground control and is one of 30 air traffic control schools in the country.

Photo Jesus Antonio

Antonio graduated from Vaughn in 2023 and is a flight instructor at the school. Ron Ruggieri, acting aviation chair at Vaughn, praised him for his hard work during his time at the college.

Ruggieri saw how committed Antonio was to the program and sees a bright future for him.

“He likes what he’s doing,” Ruggieri said. “He applies himself 110 percent. That’s why I hired him.”

Antonio, who received his commercial pilot’s license in January 2023, is ready for the next steps on his journey. He will obtain his instructor’s license in early 2024 and already has several job offers at airlines.

His goal is to teach at a flight school for a year and from there, the sky is the limit. Antonio has learned how important networking is. Andrew Treulich, ex Heritage Flight Academy flight instructor and currently at Spirit Airlines, gave word for Antonio at Republic Airways and Antoine Munfakh, an ex-Vaughn instructor and current JetBlue captain, invited him to JetBlue University in Florida.

“I have the opportunity to completely change my life,” Antonio said. “Pilots are so in demand I can go in any direction I want.”

“If I didn’t work at Banana Republic, I’m not sure where this life would be,” he added. “I have been very lucky with a lot of people playing their part.”