Alumni Insights: When one door closes, another opens

Johnathan Neilsen

Griffith Aviation Management graduate Johnathan Neilsen landed what he thought was his dream job before the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in his position becoming redundant. Nonetheless, after learning from Griffith to never let an opportunity pass, just a short while after, Johnathan went on to secure a sensational new job as an Aerodrome Reporting Officer for Queensland Airports Limited. Read more of Johnno’s turbulent journey below.

As a young boy I was absolutely taken with anything transport related. I had my heart set on becoming a train driver when I was going through school, hoping to one day bring joy of blowing the train horn for the kids at the crossing. However, I ended up on a quite different path.

The Griffith Aviation program was a huge boost to my self-esteem and self-worth

Where my passion started

I found Aviation when I was 13. I was introduced to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004. I was taken with it and spent almost all my spare time playing it and learning from the Kings (The virtual flying instructors in the sim) about how to fly an aircraft.

Unfortunately growing up in regional Queensland I didn’t have the greatest exposure to the aviation industry, the closest I got was the Brisbane-Singapore flights flying above at 38,000ft. I took a Trial Introductory Flight (TIF) at the Toowoomba Airport one weekend in January in 2009, needless to say it did not end well with me getting violently ill halfway through. This put me off the goal of pursuing a flying licence, I wanted to do it so badly but I was afraid of getting sick again.

As I grew older my passion for aviation never really faded, I discovered a whole new way of sharing this passion when I found plane spotting. I met some great people when I was first starting out spotting, this was before the time of smartphones and no one had even really heard of Automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B), let alone FlightRadar24.

The years went by and the more I learnt about aviation, the more I learnt there are a lot more jobs than just being a pilot in the industry. I was fortunate to be given a part-time job working at a regional airport in Central Queensland called Taroom, for Skytrans Airlines. After 2 years in this role I was fortunate to be given a position working on the ramp at Brisbane Airport for Oceania Aviation Services, ground handling 787s and many other commercial jets. To go back and tell the young me who just picked up MSFS2004 that he would one day be driving a pushback vehicle attached to a 787 carrying close to 350 people would be seen as hilarious.

My Griffith journey

At the same time, I was also accepted into the Griffith University School of Aviation to study a Bachelor of Aviation Management. Having moved to Brisbane for the job, naturally I decided to attend on campus for study, originally, I was planning on just doing the course online. I am glad I changed my mind on that and attended the courses on campus.

The MATES program, (Mentoring Aviators Through Educational Support), was the highlight of the whole program, where every Wednesday afternoon the entire cohort would get together and get to know each other, have a BBQ and listen to the experiences of a guest speaker from the aviation industry.

I was fortunate enough to be selected in my second year of study to be one of the student leaders of the MATES program in the Deputy Chief Student Pilot role. Additionally, I was also tasked with managing the Student Welfare portfolio.

A new opportunity

My time at Griffith Aviation was extremely positive. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. I was also fortunate enough to secure a position working in Network Operations at Airnorth, shortly after my graduation from the Aviation Management program. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and its effects on aviation, my position was no longer required, and I was made redundant.

However, I have never been one to let an opportunity slip past, (one of the key things you’ll learn at Griffith Aviation) and only after a short while between jobs I secured a job as an Aerodrome Reporting Officer for Queensland Airports Limited.

I consider myself to be extremely lucky to only have been in redundancy for a short period of time before being employed again, let alone employed back in aviation during a time where there are mass layoffs and stand downs. I am beyond humbled and thrilled to commence this new experience.

“There are opportunities hidden behind everyday interactions, you are the author of your journey, write it as you want it to be written”

A new chapter

I am now looking at returning to Griffith to either complete a Graduate Certificate in Aviation Management or my Masters. I strongly recommend the Griffith Aviation Management degree to anyone thinking of studying, it is a great course. They give you the tools you need to succeed but it is your journey to write. I didn’t have the best GPA or the best marks, you could say I was an average student. You can be an average student, but for me the academic work was only a portion of the program, the social aspect of studying aviation is immense. There is always something to do or going on you can be involved in.

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