Member Spotlight: Len Civitano


Sonja Wosnitzer

Nice meeting you, Len, tell me a bit about your aviation background and about yourself.

Len Civitano

I joined the Jersey Aero Club in November of last year. I'm a pilot for United and I joined the JAC because I really wanted to get back into general aviation. My daughter has expressed an interest in flying. She waffles back and forth between just wanting to dabble in it for recreation and sometimes she say she wants to become a pilot. So I don't know where that's going to take us. But I thought the JAC was a great first step, to provide her access to great planes and a community of pilots, too. I was looking for a club locally, and then I realized that Jason Fox was a member and he sponsored me. He's now a United Pilot, and I knew him from Express, and he couldn't say enough good things. So that was enough for me. I'm very big into recommendations from people that I know well. So when he spoke highly of the club then the choice became pretty obvious.

S.W.

Tell us more about your professional pilot career.

Len Civitano

I've been a pilot for the main line part of United for four years. And before that I was with what was then called Continental Express, which became United Express since 1996. I stayed at United Express for a very long time, way longer than most people do. I was there 21, almost 22 years, give or take. But it afforded me a quality of life that most people in this industry don't have. I was home a lot for my kid and it worked for me. I was happy. And at the end that's all I really cared about was being happy.

S.W.

That's a big consideration, I'm sure. Especially if you have a family, can you talk more about that?

Len Civitano

So much of it has to do with what you want out of life. How can I put a price on that? I was a single dad. I'm remarried, but at the time, my daughter, when I was separated, my daughter was two and she's now 13. But being at Express gave me so much time off that even though I wasn't making nearly the money I am currently with United, I barely worked and to have all that time with my daughter at that time - how do you put a price on that? I can't look back and say I should have done something different because I was with my daughter all the time and I was never away. And now my daughter is a little older, so I don't mind being away a little bit more. I'm remarried. So there's more of a support network at home. Frankly, f I hadn't met my wife and got married a few years ago, I don't know that I would have gone to United, which that actually would have been a mistake because ExpressJet folded, I'd be looking for work. So it's another reason to go home and thank my wife today.

S.W.

When you have the time to fly club planes, which do you like to fly?

Len Civitano

I flew the Warrior, the Archer and the Mooney, and I liked the Mooney by far the best. I really enjoyed flying that plane, but I didn't really go anywhere, you know, mostly I'd like to go tool around a little bit, fly up and down the coast, go do some landings. I was happy just to get in the airplane and fly. I didn't feel the need to really venture off and go places because I do it for a living. So for me, it sounds fun and I'm sure that I will go do the $100 hamburger with my daughter at some point, but frankly, I was just happy to go up and cruise around with my kid, you know, let her see what it's like, let her feel what it's like. I do think I would like to get checked out in our Saratoga, because we have family down in Virginia and I think that they're right at a good distance where getting on a commercial plane is probably a giant pain.

S.W.

Yeah, that's a great plan. So since about March this year, have things picked up work wise?

Len Civitano

Well, no, that's the funny part. I'm on the 777, on reserve, and so I'm on call. I don't actually get used much, which is great because it enables me to be available for my family. Now, guys on other airplanes, like the 737, they're flying quite a bit. I'm not. But right now that works for me.

S.W.

Tell us more about the planes you've flown professionally.

Len Civitano

I've flown the Embraer 145 and with Continental Express, I originally started on the ATR 42 and 72, which, if you know anything about the company, I just dated myself. (laughing). The ATR's were cool airplanes. I miss flying up and down the Hudson River in an ATR pre-911, going up and down the Hudson River past the World Trade Center.That was an amazing time to fly. An amazing experience. This is a different world and a different generation. Things were done very differently. I love what I do now, but I don't know a single person around my seniority who does what I do that doesn't miss flying up and down the Hudson in an ATR. It's incredible.

S.W.

How about we back up and get a little context. How long have you been flying? Where did you grow up? Where did you learn to fly?



Len Civitano

I grew up by the Jersey Shore. I learned to fly initially in 1990. I went to Stevens Tech in Hoboken for electrical engineering. Two years into it, I realized how much I hated it, and I had no business being there, and I just didn't want to do it. So I spent the year trying to figure out what I was going to do. So I made eye glasses and did construction and bounced at a bar. And then I went to Mercer County College and got all my ratings through Mercer County College. Right after Mercer County College, I got my first instructing job, flying a Seneca out of Flying W Airport, and all I did was multi engine instruction. So I had my CFII, MEI. That was a great job. Did probably 1500 hours of dual in the Seneca. Then I got a job with a charter airline called Petuxtent Airways. They flew Chieftains with a contract with the Department of Defense. So I shuttled military personnel. We also did target tracking. We would basically go out and fly around and let somebody on the ground track us with a radar gun.

Len Civitano

That was a lot of fun. And then I got the job with Continental Express in 1996. Hired ont he ATR. Then we got the Embraer jets, regional jets. And I became a check airman on the Embraer, and then I parked it there until about sometime in 2018, when I went to Mainline United.

Len Civitano

Now my opinion your CFI is invaluable. You will learn more about flying during that time of your career, in my opinion, then you will virtually anywhere else. That's where I really started to understand things, is teaching other people. And if you can do that, like right at Lakewood or somewhere, that's good enough. And then if you can build some multi time elsewhere, good enough, I just don't see the necessity for going to some place, like at again. Just my opinion.

S.W.

How was your experience being a check airman?

Len Civitano

I loved it and hated it. Part of the problem with being a check airman, in my particular case was that I did mostly day trips. I became a check airman because there are certain things at the airline that I didn't like and I wanted to be a positive influence and I wanted to teach guys and I wanted to show them. At the time we still had sort of the old guard around and some of the captains and instructors were just jerks. And I wanted it to be different. I wanted to be a different influence. The trouble is that by doing day trips primarily, I did far less instruction than I wanted to. Instead, I was assigned line checks, which is like, you know, every so often you have to do a line check or random line check on a pilot. So I was doing all these line checks but not actually teaching.

S.W.

Last time in a club airplane?

Len Civitano

It was probably about two months ago, maybe three. It's been hard to find time now. The other aspect of that is that there have been a bunch of times where I schedule something and cancel because I'm a very fair weather flier. If it's a little too breezy for me, I cancel. I don't feel comfortable enough with general aviation again yet to go up on really windy days. I know the limits of my abilities and I will not exceed them. The time for bravado and arrogance is long past for me. I do it for a living. I don't need to go up on days that I feel will push the limits of my current abilities in those airplanes. And further, I don't know that I would enjoy it.

S.W.

What is something that you could share with the membership - a story or piece of advice, that we haven't touched upon?

Len Civitano

I actually know exactly what I want to tell you. I had one experience while I was a brand new check airman, and that experience changed everything. I have told the story countless times, and when I tell it it's embarrassing at first because it was a tough situation. How could you let this happen? How could I have let this happen?

Len Civitano

It came so close to a violation that it could have had serious repercussions on my career. The short version, the very short version, is that doing initial airline training for brand new hire, we departed Washington, DC, and I flew right through the prohibited airspace off the end of runway 1 at DCA, Washington, DC. Now everybody who knows that airspace, it's very simple. It's very simple to say, well, all you have to do is take off and turn left. And on the surface, that's right. It sounds extremely simple until it's not. We had a distraction, a major distraction that occurred during lift off within the first 20ft of breaking ground. It was a very confused and unusual mechanical issue prompting us to declare an emergency. That distraction snowballed into a whole series of events which got us going right through the prohibited airspace. And it could have had serious, like I said, repercussions on my career. Declaring an emergency kept me out of trouble with the FAA but I still viewed it as a serious failure of mine.

Len Civitano

What I learned from that is this. One, always fly the airplane. Always fly the airplane. I can't say it enough times. Never stop flying the airplane. Okay, number two is distractions. Do whatever you have to do to minimize them, right. And if it does happen, refocus on flying the airplane. It's the only thing that's going to save you when you get distracted. Recognize that you're distracted and get back to flying. Now, for the thrid thing. My biggest advice to new pilots, experienced pilots, every pilot in the world, because I do see it. I do see it in pilots that I currently fly with. You must be humble. I was young, I was arrogant. I thought I had it all figured out. And it took me a couple of years, literally a couple of years, to really understand myself and really learn from that example of that incident and say, you need to change.You need to put that arrogance aside. You need to become more humble. You need to just accept advice from other people. Learn from everything. It was a very painful period. But that incident, more than anything in my aviation career, taught me the most about myself and how I fly.

S.W.

Thank you for sharing that.

Len Civitano

Also, learn to advocate for yourself in your career. If you don't advocate for yourself, nothing positive is going to happen. Fortunately, I've had very few experiences where I really had to do that. And one thing that I have prided myself on, was when I was a captain, if I was flying with a first officer who was uncomfortable with something and he told me as such, I did my best to say, okay, well, let's figure out why we're uncomfortable, and let's come up with a game plan that makes you comfortable. That's the tricky part to me about being a captain. It's got nothing to do with flying the airplane and has everything to do with being a good crew member, making the person you're flying with feel comfortable and being on the same page, having a plan.

Len Civitano

So, I do change my personality to an extent based on who I'm flying with.

S.W.

I think that's what I do, too, actually.

Len Civitano

Good. First officers need to be malleable but still advocate for themselves.

S.W.

So, the problem with these sorts of interviews is that I always promise just 20 minutes and we run over 45 minutes. So, then my final question will be, what's been your favorite destination to fly to or one that you're looking forward to go in the 777?

Len Civitano

Hands down, Milan. I love Milan. The last trip I did was to Milan. The crew all got together. We jumped on a train from Center City, Milan, and went up to Lake Como. We swam in Lake Como and it was absolutely amazing, and I like Hong Kong, too. I think those are my two favorites so far.

S.W.

Last thing, I hear you have something of a side hobby in long distance swimming and lifting?

Len Civitano

That's part of the reason I don't have a lot of time! I spend a lot of time training for a sport called kettlebell sport. If you Google it, you'll see what it is. Kettlebell sport. And then I just did it's an eight mile open water swim down in Islamorada, Florida. Competitive, Olympic lifting and long distance open water swimming are my other interests I've been doing for eight or nine years, now.




S.W.

That is incredible! Thanks, Len for your time, and a pleasure meeting you.