Sunday, June 08, 2014

Shannon Ferry: Flight instructor always soaring toward goals

Shannon Ferry is a top flight instructor at FIT Aviation and a member of the Zonta Club. She's also a mom of a 9-year-old and 3-year-old twins.

Shannon Ferry, chief instructor at Florida Institute of Technology Aviation LLC., is at the Emil Buehler Center for Aviation Training and Research in Melbourne. 

Shannon Ferry says everyone remembers their first flight.

But being a passenger is nothing compared to piloting the plane.

Ferry was 12 when her uncle, Donald Latterell, asked her if she wanted to take flying lessons.

“We went up and did maneuvers that we all have to learn, and steep turns,” Ferry says of the trip. “So you’re doing circles and you’ve got those updrafts from the heat because it’s the summertime. I just remember coming back and being so nauseous.”

But that didn’t matter. “That was it,” she says.

Today, Ferry is still hooked. The Melbourne woman, 36, is a year into serving as chief instructor at Florida Institute of Technology Aviation.

“This is her passion,” managing director Jaimie King says. “She’s kind of a pioneer here. ... She’s growing into the role in remarkable fashion in a heavily male-dominated industry. She’s holding her own pretty well.”

Flying in the family

Ferry was born Shannon Coutan on July 1, 1977, to Joanne Clement and James Coutan. The family lived in Bennington, Vermont, then Queensbury, New York. Her parents divorced when she was 5, and her brother, 1. They went with their dad; their older half-sister ended up in foster care.

“We moved around a lot because Dad was kind of bouncing around from job to job,” Ferry says. He worked in construction.

Ferry was at a cousin’s birthday party when her dad called. “(He) basically said, ‘You have to head home. You have to pack. We have to move,’ ” Ferry says.

Ferry’s aunt and uncle asked her to move in with them. She stayed through high school.

“My uncle’s a pilot,” says Ferry. “I used to go with him on weekends, even before I moved in with them. Jump in, go fly somewhere. Land at a grass strip, have breakfast, $3 pancakes, all you can eat.”

And so it began.

“Every time I’d go someplace or every time I’d take the airplane out, she’d want to go with me,” says Latterell, 63, of Queensbury. “When she was able to take the controls, she fell right in love with it.”

Ferry soloed on her 16th birthday, Latterell says. He remembers one of her other treks alone.

“It was a pretty breezy day when she left,” Latterell says. “The kid’s 16 years old out flying by herself, you know? And she had to go like 150 miles away.”

Ferry’s flight took longer than Latterell expected.

“I was pretty nervous,” he says. “So when she finally got back, it was really no big deal. She got a little bit lost. She ended up at the wrong airport.”

Ferry got a tour of the tower there, and they sent her in the right direction. “It was no big deal to her, but it got everybody else a little nervous,” Latterell says.

Ferry was a senior in high school when she earned her private pilot’s license. After she finished high school, she received a bachelor of science degree in health sciences from State University of New York at Potsdam in 1999.

She had avoided aviation after someone’s advice. “One of my uncle’s friends said, ‘Don’t turn your hobby into a career, because you’ll end up disliking it,’ ” Ferry says. “I thought, ‘There’s no way I want to hate flying.’ ”

So Ferry kept it as a hobby. She landed a physical therapy job in Las Vegas. She decided to work on her instrument rating, but it was difficult while holding down a full-time job.

Ferry realized, “the current job I have is OK, but I still want to fly all the time.” She set her sights on becoming a commercial airline pilot.

Six months later, she moved to Indialantic, where another aunt and uncle lived. She ended up at Airline Training Academy at Orlando Executive Airport in April 2002, where she earned her instrument rating, then commercial multi-engine rating in October 2002.

Around that time, Ferry’s aunt and uncle were doing major renovations to their home. It was a three-month process with construction crews there the bulk of the day.

Her aunt spied a potential suitor for her niece. “Every time I’d come home, she’d be like, ‘Have you met Allen yet? Oh, I think you’d like him,’ ” Ferry says. “(She’d say,) ‘You’ve got to meet him. You guys are going to get married someday.’ I just kind of blew her off.”

But, as it turns out, her aunt was right. The two went out on their first date about a month later.

Entering career

Professionally, all Ferry had left was flight training. She took out a loan and started building up her time. She was about 50 hours shy in February 2003 when her school shut its doors.

“At that point, it was kind of like hitting a brick wall,” Ferry says.

She did what she had to do, working part-time odd jobs.

And she kept flying. She recalls the first time she took Allen up. “He’d never been in a small plane. We were walking out and just turning dark. I turned to him and said, ‘You excited?’ He said, ‘I’m a little nervous.’ I said, ‘Me, too!’ ”

Ferry remembers Allen exclaiming, “ ‘What? You’re not supposed to be nervous!’”

It didn’t scare him away, though. He proposed to her Feb. 15, 2004. They married that December in Las Vegas.

In February 2004, Ferry was hired as a flight attendant with the regional then-Chautauqua Airlines. “It was OK,” she says of the role. “It’s a job. It’s insurance, but the whole time you want to be up front. It’s a good way to check out the lifestyle, to see if it was something I could handle.”

There, she met Heather Warrington, a captain with the airline. Warrington, 38, of Satellite Beach, says she was impressed that Ferry was able to focus on career and a fledgling family life at such a young age.

“She definitely burns the candle at both ends, but she does it really well,” Warrington says.

Ferry is also incredibly down to earth, her friend says.

“One thing that sticks out in my mind with Shannon is her humility and her quiet confidence,” Warrington says. “She’s a confident person, but she’s never one to boast.”

Ferry finished her flight instructor rating at Florida Institute of Technology in December 2004. Daughter Skyler was born in June 2005. That winter, Ferry left her job and went back to Florida Tech to work on her certified flight instructor instrument rating in spring 2006.

She started part-time in May 2006, working with retail students. She attained her multi-engine instructor rating, then was promoted to retail manager. In that role, she started and oversaw summer and other flight camps. Ferry loves being a part of that. “It’s just a rewarding feeling. Give them the experience that I had at that young age.”

In December 2009, Ferry became assistant chief instructor.

Tragedy close to home

Ferry’s also had some tough times. Nov. 11, 2010, was one of those.

“I was on Facebook and a coworker messaged me and said, ‘Oh, it’s not you. I know that,’ ” Ferry says.

There was a link to a news story attached. A Piper PA-44 Seminole with four people aboard crashed during takeoff at Palm Beach International Airport. It was a training flight operated by FIT Aviation.

“That was ugly,” Ferry says. “We all came into work that night, to try to figure out who was it, what happened.”

Three students and a flight instructor were killed. They were headed back to Melbourne after a training flight to the Bahamas.

It was a horrific tragedy. But it didn’t make Ferry rethink her career choice.

“No, not at all,” Ferry says as she walks across the tarmac, the hum of the propeller planes buzzing in the background. “I had some students who, I think it hit them a little bit harder, to try to get them back in the groove. It was tough because they knew them, too.”

Two months later, Ferry’s mother was killed in an icy car accident in Vermont.

Family and philanthropy

In the wake of that terrible time came some good. In April 2011, twins Dylan and Jolee were born.

In May 2013, she became chief instructor. Now, she’s working on getting her master’s degree in business administration.

She attributes being able to juggle it all to her support at home. “I have to credit that to my husband,” Ferry says. He still works in his family’s construction business. “He stays home and works around my schedule. If it weren’t for that, it would be tough.”

In whatever free time she has left over, Ferry is a fan of CrossFit and traveling.

“The twins being 3, they’re pretty demanding,” Ferry says. “But we do the Disney thing. We have seasonal passes. I like to spend time outdoors. I love hiking. I miss the mountains upstate.”

Ferry still allows time for Toastmasters at Florida Tech, the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association and the Zonta Club of Melbourne, which works to advance the status of women worldwide through service and advocacy.

“My mother, my sister and most of my aunts have been raised through the foster care system, and their experiences haven’t been so great,” Ferry says. “I just feel very fortunate that it wasn’t me, but those kind of things really make you angry. I just want to find a way to try to do my part, to try to help whoever it is from those things from happening.”

Zonta president Trudi Ciccoricco, 59, of Micco is thrilled with what Ferry’s brought to the group.

“She’s definitely a go-getter,” Ciccoricco says. “She has, in a sense, injected our club with this enthusiasm that’s unmistakable.”

Ferry suggested a 5K as a fundraiser, then spearheaded Zonta’s Zero Tolerance for Violence 5K Walk/Run on May 24 in Viera.

Ciccoricco describes Ferry as kind, compassionate, willing and able. “I don’t have any girls, and I said to Shannon, ‘Man, if I could have a daughter, I’d want her to be just like you.’ ”

Learn more

The Zonta Club of Melbourne and Zonta International are focused on advancing the status of women globally, nationally and locally. In Brevard, the nonprofit has projects with the Sue M. Pridmore Center for Homeless Woman and Children, Human Trafficking Awareness and Serene Harbor. Learn more by calling 321-729-0755 or visit


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