Childhood Passions Take Flight

Project Description

Matthew McKinney

Myrtle Beach Branch Campus, SC
Program: Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT)
Employment: American Airlines, Line Maintenance Technician DCA Airport

Although he grew up around airplanes, Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA) alumnus Matthew McKinney took a surprisingly roundabout path to become an airline technician.
“When I was a kid, my family ran a Part 135 Operation for corporate charters,” recalls McKinney. “While my mother and father dealt with the business needs, I spent my time drinking FBO coffee and observing the mechanics in the hangar. I was fascinated watching planes come and go, and I thought, ‘I’m going to be a pilot when I grow up!.’” But instead, McKinney went to art school and spent several years working in the wedding industry.

A chance conversation rekindled McKinney’s childhood love of airplanes and inspired him to look into changing careers. “That’s when I remembered becoming a pilot is super expensive,” jokes McKinney. So he took a campus tour for the A&P program at PIA, and the rest is history.

“As a kid, I was always building model kits and remote-control planes,” says McKinney. “I’m a mechanically-inclined person, so being able to take my passion for working with my hands and combine it with something that challenges me on an intellectual level was the perfect way to go.”

McKinney says PIA’s attention to detail, focus on safety, and insider tips from veteran instructors gave him a clear advantage when pursuing an aviation career. “The PIA instructors’ personal expertise is something you truly can’t get anywhere else. They gave me a great foundation.”

After graduating from PIA, McKinney rose through the ranks at Piedmont Airlines and Spirit Airlines before moving to his current role as a line maintenance tech for American Airlines at D.C.’s Reagan National Airport. “My current job responsibilities at American are similar to what I did at Spirit, but more diverse—and even more challenging. I perform a greater variety of maintenance tasks, including C checks, on a wider variety of aircraft: 757s, 737s, E190s, and the A320 Family.”

As much as he loves solving problems, McKinney says he’s proudest of what happens afterward. “My favorite part of what I do every day is watching a plane leave,” says McKinney. “Coming in to solve a problem, and then looking back at that full airplane and seeing 174 passengers who are thanking their lucky stars that they’re not going to be late for their next stop—that makes it all worth it.”

Recruiting and hiring have been a big part of McKinney’s job responsibilities, so he’s always on the lookout for fellow PIA alumni. “When a hiring manager sees PIA on a resumé, it immediately gets their attention,” says McKinney. “PIA is a big door-opener. Everywhere you go, you’ll find people who graduated from PIA and have earned their way to these excellent positions. Alumni hire alumni, and your PIA reputation follows you. It’s kind of like one big PIA family out here.”