In our fifth episode of Futureproof Focus, Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Gagandeep Munder ’14, captain at Delta Connection, for an inspiring conversation about how he broke barriers to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. Read on to learn how his passion for aviation landed him in the captain’s seat.

A passion for aviation

From an early age, Gagandeep, who grew up in India, expressed a love for aviation. When he was 11 years old, his family moved to New York, where he became obsessed with watching the airplanes take off and land at LaGuardia Airport. “I knew I wanted to become a pilot, but no one took me seriously,” said Gagandeep. “Being a pilot is frowned upon in my country, and my family thought I would outgrow my passion for aviation.” Following his dream, Gagandeep enrolled at Vaughn College at the age of 19, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Aircraft Operations. “Attending Vaughn was the best decision for me. I loved being surrounded by others who share the same passion for aviation as I do.”

His path to the captain’s seat

After graduating from Vaughn in 2014, Gagandeep had his certifications in place to begin working as a flight instructor. He explained how he worked seven days a week—always keeping his eye on the sky for the opportunity to transition from flight instructor to the flight deck. In 2016, his dream came true when he accepted an offer from Endeavor Air/Delta Connection. “At 23 years old, I was flying a jet. It was surreal,” he said. “At that moment, I was humbled that my love for aviation led me to stay true to my dream.” Two years later, he was promoted to captain.

Breaking barriers

At the age of 25, he was living his dream. Gagandeep was asked by Dr. DeVivo what it was like to make the transition from the right seat (as co-pilot) to the left seat (as captain)—as a person from an underrepresented group.

“It was difficult at first,” he said. “I was only 25 years old and the only person who looked like me. “It was challenging, but it made me stronger,” he explained. “I was given the incredible opportunity to fly international routes as a captain. It inspires me every day to share my passion with the next generation of flight students to be the best they can be.”

Gagandeep’s advice and tips for students

Gagandeep offered some inspirational tips for success as a guide to underrepresented students:

  • Approach what you love as a shared passion—not by a skin tone or what a person looks like.
  • Work hard, stay determined, true to your passion—and you’ll be successful.

Landing the legacy seat

Now at 30 years old, Gagandeep is proud to say he has been hired by United Airlines, one of the three legacy industry carriers. “I wanted to be a part of a culture where there is room to grow,” he said. “United Airlines is that culture. It’s like family, where we are all on a first-name basis.” One of the biggest decisions, he said, was choosing what type of flying he wanted to do. Should he fly international or domestic? “At 30 years old, it is unimaginable that I will be flying the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I can’t wait to begin training on this aircraft,” he said excitedly. As a first officer for United, Gagandeep has moved back to the right seat, and that’s just fine with him. “It’s a blessing to be working with experienced pilots on international flights,” he said. “I’ll be soaking up all their knowledge.”

When it comes to inspiring the younger generation of flight students, Gagandeep reminds them that it’s not about the stripes or status—it’s all about being safe. “You want to be ready for what’s ahead of you. Don’t rush, stay focused and learn as much as you can along the way.”

Gagandeep’s take on the in-demand need for pilots

The ongoing pilot shortage means that the best time to pursue a career in aviation is now. Gagandeep cited that United Airlines is hiring between 70 and 80 pilots each week, and is projected to hire approximately 15,000 more within the next 10 years. And that’s just for United.

If becoming a pilot is on your radar, here is a quick snapshot of the pathway to earning your wings as a captain:

  • Certified flight instructor
  • Co-pilot (right seat) at regional airline
  • Captain (left seat) at regional airline
  • Co-pilot (right seat) legacy airline
  • Work to transition to captain (left seat) legacy airline

Gagandeep explained that although the demand for pilots continues to grow, companies are very particular in their pilot selection process. “Airlines will not just hire anyone due to the shortage,” he stated. “There are certain qualities they look for that go beyond your qualifications.” Here are important characteristics that airlines seek during the pilot selection process:

  • Fitting the company culture
  • Possessing a positive attitude
  • Being hardworking and a people person
  • Representing the company in a positive light
  • Passing the company’s qualification/personality exam, which is used to gauge a candidate’s personality, demeanor, honesty and how he or she handles pressure

When it comes to becoming a pilot, Gagandeep is passionate about sharing his thoughts and experiences with the younger generation. “Becoming a pilot brings a sense of maturity and responsibility, both in the air and on the ground,” he said with great conviction. “Think about it: You’re responsible for the lives sitting behind you on the airplane. And when you’re not flying, you find that you carry yourself differently. You’re now representing the community and the airline. Being a pilot makes you do the right thing, no matter where you are.”

Watch the full podcast here.

Thinking about becoming a pilot? Read why now is the best time to pursue flight training if you want to become a pilot.