The Liberty Gazette
May 10, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Shane had just been promoted to Captain at a regional airline when his first child was born. He was commuting from their home in Houston to Newark, New Jersey to fly passengers in the Bombardier Q400, riding the jump seat to work because there were no cabin seats available.
With the birth of his daughter the timing felt right to go back to school and add an art degree to his aeronautical sciences degree. Opportunities in Houston were plentiful with in-house graphic arts jobs.
Once while waiting for weather to clear before departing JFK airport he opened ForeFlight, the aviation weather app on his iPhone, and helped passengers understand the reason for delays. They appreciated the pilot who took time to show and explain. He didn't know it then, but eventually he would come to work for that company.
In Kenya, where he grew up, there weren’t a lot of things for kids to do - no soccer, swim team, or club activities. Cultural expectations for teens were to begin a mentoring relationship in a field of interest.
Understandably, his mom didn’t want him sitting around with nothing to do. There was an airport on her way to work, so by age 15 Shane was dropped off at the airport where his mechanical intuition developed into skill in his first job with East African Air Charters “in the big hangar”. Most business was flying tourists and journalists, with Shane and the other mechanics keeping the planes airworthy.
“I looked forward to the donuts,” he recollects of his teen years in the hangar. “This lady would come in and for 20 shillings you got a ‘mandazi’ and a cup of tea.”
He started out cleaning engine blocks with Scotch-Brite and kerosene (sans gloves, and hopefully after the donuts). It took two hours to clean one block and there was a whole pile of them, but more importantly he was learning how things got done.
“There was this guy who looked like St. Nicholas, or maybe Yoda, and he knew how to machine all the parts.” Once, a plane got stuck in Sudan, its nose gear collapsed in a pothole. They wanted to send a team to fix the plane but most of the guys didn’t have passports so they sent those who did - one had a little bit of knowledge and the other two had none - and through a landline phone instruction was provided to fix the plane. Repairs went on into the night so they built a berm for one to sit and guard the plane while the others worked on it.
In the afternoons Shane hung out at the hangar next door and talked with passengers and pilots about where they’d been and what they’d done, and all of this made him want to learn to fly.
He opted for college at LeTourneau University in Longview, earning all the pilot certifications to fly for an airline.
Shane now lends his expertise to the aviation software company he used in his days with the airline, and spends his nights at home with his family.
From the necessary network of over 30,000 airports across the U.S. to creative careers that support aviation as a vital mode of transportation important to our economy, there’s something for everyone, which makes Shane’s family very happy.