I’m Teodora Grama and it’s been my dream for as long as I can remember to become a pilot.
I remember it like it was yesterday – my father’s smile when, during an air show in2006, I asked him to buy me a medallion representing a NF-5, the plane used by an aerobatic team that was going to become my favourite in the world: the Turkish Stars.
Although 2006 was the year when I realised that I wanted to become a pilot, my passion for aviation was born long before. It’s been passed on from generation to generation from my grandfather, who was part of the Romanian Airborne Forces. My father followed the same career path. He really wished for a boy when I was born, and as a consequence, took me with on the local airfield, where he worked, whenever he got the chance.
I decided that upon completion of high school I would enroll in a flight school. My parents insisted however that I attend a university first. Naturally, I chose to pursue an Aerospace Engineering Degree.
A couple of months before my Baccalaureate exam (final high school exam), I started getting the jitters with regards to going to the United Kingdom for this. But my parents sat me down and told me that they will always be by my side and that they know I am capable to achieve whatever I set my mind to.
After that conversation my life took a completely different turn that tested my resilience. My dad died in a car accident. But I was determined to with my plan, stay true to my goal and not to let this bring me down. Six months later I was headed to Coventry, UK.
It was during my universities studies that I slowly started to feel really connected to my country, even though I was away from it. I was hoping that I could take all that new acquired knowledge and bring it home, to Romania. That’s why, between years two and three of my studies, and with the full support and guidance of my university mentor, I came back home to work for one year in the Romanian aerospace industry.
After graduating university, I returned to Romania seeking to pursue a career suitable for my professional and academic training. Things didn’t go quite as planned. Without influential political or industry connections, and relying primarily on my merits, I was faced with the challenges so many young, ambitious people face in Romania: limited opportunity and stymied upward mobility. So, I seized the first aviation-related opportunity that was accessible to me and worked as a journalist for various online aviation magazines for a while.
In summer 2015, I visited an air show on assignment for an aviation journal. The main performers of the show: Turkish Stars, the aviation inspiration of my childhood. But that’s not all! The Turkish Stars had a new team member this year. For the first time in their history they were joined by a female pilot, Ezra Ozatay. I had the honour of doing an interview with her. When asked if she had any advice for women considering pursuing a career in the aviation industry, particularly those desiring to become pilots (me!), her answer was: “I would give them the same advice that I would give to guys too: Work as hard as you can for your dream and never give up when things get harder.”
Ezra’s inspirational advice encouraged me to persevere in my dream, even though I didn’t have my father around to encourage, guide and support me.
So here I am today, March 3, 2016. I’ve finally made it into a pilot-training program for a commercial airline!
After numerous applications to different pilot-training programs, I was accepted to the one I really hoped for, out of approximately 300 candidates, the only female along with 13 other males. Unfortunately, five of them didn’t join the course in the end due to the extremely high costs of the tuition, especially burdensome for Eastern Europeans.
The pilot training program in which I’m currently enrolled grants a conditional employment contract. This means that by the end of the two-year training program, I’ll be a First Officer for a European carrier with a base in Bucharest flying Airbus A320s. This incorporates the best of both worlds for me: to fly as a commercial pilot, and to stay in my home country and try and change it, for the better.