Airbus pilots Captain Kennard deCastro of Purcell Estate and First Officer Alvason “Lex” Davies of East End, for example, entered the cockpit quite differently. deCastro was ten years old when he began taking flying lessons while Davies, on the other hand, was an Air Traffic Controller at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport before turning in the direction of sitting in a cockpit.
“I initially was afraid of airplanes and intrigued by them at the same time, so I asked for a lesson to see how they work,” recalled Derrick Varlack Jr. of Baughers Bay, who took his first lesson around 11 with Neville Brathwaite Jr. and got hooked. “We’re only afraid of the things we don’t understand.”
Captain deCastro, who has been flying planes for the last 41 years, got his license at 18 and has been a pilot for the last 33 years—21 of them at American Airlines.
“My first job was flying twin otters for Virgin Islands Airways between Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and San Juan around 1993,” he recalled. “I did not get where I am all by myself. I had guidance and mentorship from the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. Warren Wheeler, who lived in the BVI, was instrumental in getting me in touch with them.”
Getting together in the cockpit with fellow BVI pilots was something deCastro had his eyes on after Davies joined American. Later, Varlack made it the Territory’s third pilot working for the airline.
“I’ve waited a long time to fly with Lex. I was the only BVIslander pilot at AA for 19 years, until Lex got hired from Envoy Airlines in 2018,” deCastro pointed out. “It has been my mission to fly with him since then. I felt such a joy when I finally knew we would fly together, and I knew it was going to be a great trip.”
The 3-day cross-country voyage started on November 16 from LaGuardia, New York, to San Francisco, California, with deCastro and Davies. They were later joined by Varlack on November 19 in the cockpit for the final leg from Charlotte to LaGuardia, marking the first time that the Territory’s natives had flown together in the cockpit on American Airlines commercial flight.
From LaGuardia on day one of the deCastro and Davies’ flight, they went to Charlotte, North Carolina, then on to San Francisco, California, for their longest leg of 5 hours and 47 minutes. On the second day, they flew from San Francisco to Phoenix, Arizona. Day three was from Phoenix to Chicago, Illinois, then Chicago to Charlotte, and from Charlotte to LaGuardia.
deCastro said flying with Davies was great, as he’s very knowledgeable and professional. “When I got the trip with Lex, I decided we had to have Derrick come along, so I called him up and invited him (for the final leg). It was great having all of us in the flight deck together,” deCastro stated proudly. “I wish it could have been to Beef Island. If American Airlines ever flies the airbus to Beef Island, I will do my best to fly the inaugural flight.”
Captain deCastro is a check airman—a pilot approved by the FAA who has the appropriate knowledge, training, experience, and demonstrated ability to evaluate and certify other pilots’ knowledge and skill—performs oversight, safety, and qualification roles for commercial pilots undergoing evaluation. He is based in Miami and teaches in the flight simulators in Dallas. He attended the BVI High School from First through Third Forms. After that, he attended St. Croix’s Country Day School and Academy of the West Indies. He said that he doesn’t get to fly to St. Thomas or St. Croix often but was surprised by the reaction when he posted the first image on social media of himself and Davies and a second that included Varlack.
“My family and friends all texted and called me as soon as I posted it on Facebook,” he noted. “I was actually surprised it got so much attention. All three of us are very appreciative.”
Davies, who has known Captain deCastro for over 30 years, a pilot over the span, and has flown for several companies, said they had been looking forward to flying together after joining American.
“It was a really good feeling and humble honor for us to have flown across the country together as professional pilots,” said Davies, who also flies the Airbus family of aircraft, including the A319, A320, and A321. “It was also great having our other Virgin Islands colleague, Derrick, also an American Airlines pilot, join us on one of our flight segments. Having all three of us from the Virgin Islands together on the flight deck at the same time was truly an honor not only for us but also for the BVI. I look forward to the time when we could fly together again. I would also encourage more of our young men and women to pursue a career in aviation and take the Territory further than where we have gone.”
Varlack, who’s based in Miami and was recently requalified to fly the 737 after flying the 757/767 and regularly flies into St. Thomas and St. Croix, posted an image on his Facebook page about the moment the only three British Virgin Islanders of American Airlines’ 13,000 pilots got to share the flight deck together.
“I’ve had many special moments throughout my career,“ he posted under the photo caption. “But this, there are no words.”
Varlack said he knew Captain deCastro had been trying to make it happen for some time since he joined American two years ago after flying American Eagle/USAir for nine years.
“When it did, I was ecstatic,” he said. “We don’t fly the same aircraft type, so I knew I couldn’t be his First Officer, but this was indeed a moment in BVI history that I had to be part of. My American friends thought it was cool. My BVI friends and family saw it as a moment of pride as I did. The outpouring of congratulatory sentiments has been pretty amazing.”
Varlack’s advice to others looking at the profession said that the aviation industry is one of the most dynamic and rewarding industries out there.
“It’s not as difficult as it seems,” he said. “If there is any interest or passion for flying, it would be a shame not to pursue it.”
Meanwhile, there’ another pilot with BVI connections in the American Airlines system. Jerome Williams, who flies the regional CJR 900 and is based in Dallas, is the son of former ZBVI radio personality Dale “The Black Machine” Williams of Baughers Bay and Carmen Thomas-Williams of East End.