Greek-American Nadia Kountoures: One of the Youngest Pilots in the U.S.

 Nadia KountouresChicago born Greek-American Nadia Kountoures is one of the nation’s youngest pilots. Her childhood love for aviation has manifested itself as a career, although it was not without its challenges.

The daughter of Chicago Businessman Alex Kountoures and National Hellenic Museum’s Development Director Marianne Vallas Kountoures, Nadia Kountoures always had a passion for aviation. As a child she lined the walls of her bedroom with posters of airplanes and jets.

When she was 9 years old, her parents took her to see the Chicago Air and Water Show, a day that sealed her fate. From then on, she set her sights to the skies. Kountoures continued to dream about flying until she was old enough to do something about it.

“As soon as I found out I could attend college in-state so I could become a pilot, my dream became a reality.”

At the age of 18 Kountoures started flying airplanes as she studied aviation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Immediately following her graduation from university, she shared her dreams and aspirations with students as she started teaching as a flight instructor.

As the field of aviation is male dominated, Kountoures was only one of a handful of female students in her class. However, she didn’t see any gender bias or differentiations in the capabilities between genders.

“Being a female, I never really faced any additional challenges then what men faced, other than being a minority in numbers. Freshman year, 2006, only a handful of females began the program. Four years later, of a class of 40, only two were girls. They only worked up to certain ratings, for example, instrument rating. They then ended up transferring to other degrees. Overall, the aviation industry is a male-dominated industry.”

The challenges that Kountoures was up against are not to be taken lightly. Not only is aviation a male dominated field, the curriculum is also a key element in determining an aspiring young pilot’s future.

“The curriculum was so intense, with not only full course work, but with flying lesson requirements several times a week.”

“It’s intense. There’s a lot of information that you need to know and have committed to memory while you’re flying a plane. Knowledge of airspace, air traffic control procedures, how the aircraft operates systems-wise; you need to know every detail of the plane during each phase of flight. Not to mention speed, full flap and landing procedures. It’s really hard.”

Kountoures had very little social life as she pursued her professional goals and put all of her focus on getting a passing grade of 95 percent or better in her studies. However, the young pilot didn’t seem to mind.

“It was impossible to go out on a Friday night and be at flying lessons at 8 am on a Saturday morning. You had to be awake and alert so you were able to fly safely…It was very challenging for me but in a good way,” Kountoures said.

While representing Greeks in aviation, a number that has dwindled in recent years, Kountoures is also making her mark as one of the youngest pilots. At only 28 years old she is quite young for a corporate pilot, and she started off flying professionally even younger at the age of 23.

It all started back in 2011, when Kountoures began flying a turboprop aircraft, as a contractor pilot for aviation tech company Gogo Air. Within a year the company expanded and hired her as a corporate pilot to fly a business jet. Today she’s flying a Boeing 737 completing domestic and international flights.

“It’s great for my career because there’s a lot more aviation procedures that need to be learned. It’s an exciting milestone. Especially crossing the Atlantic Ocean. This is a big step in my career.”