James Onieal - Pilot Aviation Careers and Pilot Wife Partnerships

pilot wife life

Navigating Your Best Career as a Pilot and Partner with James Onieal

I had a Fantastic interview on the pilot/pilot wife partnership as a team; a strong marriage and how James Onieal and his wife navigate life as a dual aviation career couple, and the many ups and downs they have experienced.


James has a fun, fascinating journey as a pilot and he holds two claims of fame - the youngest pilot ever hired by Netjets and then the youngest furloughed by Netjets!


An Embry Riddle grad, then September 11th followed; getting hired, fired and all of the rejection and depression that goes along with it.


Some clips:


“You really better be nice to people on the elevator ride up. Because you're sure as hell going to see them on the elevator ride down.”


“I get hired at Netjets. I was the youngest person on this list. I got hired on a Monday, making $30,000 a year. The Union passed a new contract on Wednesday and by Friday I was making $90, 000, which was a huge deal and then, as you know, two years later I got the honor of being the youngest pilot ever furloughed from that company.”


“My wife has been through a lot with this. And, has been very patient so I think we're at a point now where we both know what we're getting into. I think spouses don't get near the amount of credit that they deserve for the role that they play.


When I go out to go flying I don't have to worry if something goes wrong at home is she capable of handling it.


Now, the downside of that is when I come home, I have the status of a dog or a child. Because the whole House operates when you're not there right and so you come home and all of a sudden, you put the spoons in the wrong place or you're loading the dishwasher wrong or the laundry is not separated correctly or you end up becoming disruptive in your own home.


You're just going to go through a lot of ups and downs and the relationship’s that work best are the ones that I find where the spouse knows how to be supportive. And how to kind of light the fire at the right time, because if you get furloughed or downgraded or your basis changed or you take a pay cut or you're in contract negotiations or any number of those things.


It's funny as pilots, you know we get the credit being these like really strong a type personalities and there's a lot of times, where these things go sideways in our careers, where you can literally watch pilots have all their self esteem just deflated to almost zero instantly. I am a foreigner in my own home at times, and I am okay with that.”


“ Pilots will call up and go I need a career strategy session, the first thing I say: ‘is your spouse willing to get on the call.’


If you can have him or her on the call they're going to have a whole set of information and perspective that you and I are going to miss without having them there because they've heard every one of your boring stories a million times.


They know what makes you happy; they know what makes you upse.


I can be on a coaching session or strategy session and the pilot says, I want to do a B and C and the spouse says: I can remember, three years ago, when you were doing that you were complaining.


Most pilots; well above 90%. work closely with their spouse in making these decisions; they’re not making them in a vacuum on their own. Their spouse may not know the inner details of the Union contract or an aircraft type you know. But that's the last five or 10% you can talk to your buddies about. They know all the other stuff about what makes you happy. What makes you fulfilled what's going to be right for your family; they provide a lot of perspective on that.”


We talk about the perception of the “world” about what a pilot is; commercial vs private, corporate, and the strangeness of it all. And, the way it gets into a pilot’s head! And, status as well as ego. Separating who you are as a person vs “being a pilot.”


James and his career counseling/coaching company for pilots - RavenCareers, providing aviation professionals with the resources to successfully develop their careers.




James has a vast knowledge of how to plot and plan a great career whether you are new, in your 20s and just getting started; or in your 50s and trying to determine how to “land” the ending of your career and have true quality of life.


How do you choose when you have offers from United, American and Delta? Or southwest? Throw the Low cost carriers in there and it can be challenging to make the right decision on your aviation career!


I’m so grateful that James was willing to share his 6 key strategies to focus on:


Type of flying; long haul or international


Advancement Opportunities

Outside of the Cockpit Opportunities


Quality of Life



“It’s a different conversation depending on priorities and age. Pilot’s look at Arbitrary data points that have no bearing on the actual decision, and they cannot discern what is important, what is urgent and what they should throw in the garbage.”


How should military pilots make decisions on their pilot and aviation career?


It’s not all cookie cutter; each situation is unique.


Are kids in the picture? Is there buy in from the whole family?


“When I talk about coaching and strategy, the way I explain it is this has nothing to do with intelligence, it has everything to do with blind spots. You can’t cut your own hair because you can’t see the back of your head. Not because you aren’t smart enough.”


James shares his thoughts on the pilot and the partner or spouse; communication and how it’s a lot like riding a wave while surfing, and maximizing the phases of the wave; and knowing what to do when the wave crashes.


How to make decisions on taking early outs or retiring early in general; financial risks and exposure, and more.


Ready to learn more about what James Onieal offers at Raven Careers?


“The Tuesday email - comes out every Tuesday at 8pm we talk about industry news usually data and stats on what's going on, hiring, etc. Go to RavenCareers.com ; click on the contact us tab and You get to put time directly on James’s calendar.”


And, of course, I ask James to look in his crystal ball and predict the next 5-10 years.


You have to listen to know his answer!



James Onieal founded Raven Careers in 2010 to provide aviation professionals with the resources to successfully develop their careers.

As an ATP certified pilot with type ratings in King Air 300, Citation Sovereign, and Embraer 170/190 aircraft, James understands pilots and the many challenges they can experience during their careers.

While still a senior in high school, James completed primary flight training in central New Jersey and obtained his private pilot certificate before he even received his driver’s license. His passion for aviation led him to pursue an undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Science with a minor in Air Traffic Control at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

During his time at Embry-Riddle, James became a flight instructor for the University and specialized in teaching commercial, multiengine, and flight instructor candidates, in addition to working with students experiencing challenges in their flight training.

Shortly thereafter, James began flying a turboprop for a regional carrier in the Northeast. Eventually, he transitioned to a large regional jet, and then joined a large fractional operator flying a Citation Sovereign. James flew clients throughout North America and the Caribbean, with operations in and around challenging mountainous areas. He also focused on specialty projects to enhance safety and operational efficiency throughout the flight operation.

During the economic downturn of 2010, James used a furlough to perfect his career planning, strategy, networking, interviewing, and negotiating skills,  leading to multiple interviews with Fortune 500 flight departments throughout the United States. His success in this arena led him to create Raven Career Development.

The business grew by word of mouth, and clientele expanded as additional services were added. Raven Careers’ client base has now grown to cross multiple continents and other highly skilled industries such as finance, law, medicine, government, education, and hospitality.

During this period, James then secured a position as the Director of Operations for a large Part 61 flight school and Part 91 management company in the Northeast, where he oversaw company pilots, instructors, maintenance, hiring, and office staff. This management experience led James to accept a position as an Aviation Safety Inspector responsible for Part 121 Air Carrier oversight, with emphasis on international procedures training, ETOPS pilot training, and electronic performance programs.

In addition to his focus on air carrier operations, James also performed accident/incident investigations, conducted pilot enforcement actions, and assisted in the oversight of international corporate and airline operators in foreign locales.

With years of aviation management and flight operations experience, James naturally transitioned to a new position as an Inspection Pilot where he is responsible for certifying navigational aids, approach procedures, and airport lighting to support safe and efficient operation of aircraft using space and ground-based instrument procedures throughout the United States.

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