Meet commercial pilot Tajj Anderson
He burned and sold coal, provided security at night clubs, assisted valet to earn money to finish school
Tajj Anderson says becoming a commercial pilot has brought joy and pride to his family.

He had to dig deep in order to fly high.

Money stood between him and his dream, but hungry and relentless, he clawed his way through.

Commercial pilot Tajj Anderson burnt a coal kiln for over a month with his cousin in Portland, bagged charcoal and then sold the product to vendors to accumulate enough money for training at Flying Academy Miami in the United Sates.

"After working in the heat of the fire we were advised not to take a bath until the next day, due to the high risk of collapsing. This was a small price to pay for the bigger objective of completing my studies. By any means necessary, I was willing to raise the funds needed. I kept envisioning myself in the pilot uniform," Anderson told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.

"To become the first commercial pilot, the joy and pride it brought to the family is unreal, and to see their investment over the years pay off brings to my soul a great sense of accomplishment. I feel proud. I wanted to inspire others through my inspiration and today I can say mission accomplished," the 26-year-old continued.

Tajj Anderson burnt a coal kiln for over a month with his cousin in Portland, bagged charcoal and then sold the product to vendors to accumulate enough money for training at Flying Academy Miami in the United Sates. .

Before burning coal, he took on numerous jobs in the US – providing landscaping services for neighbours and friends, working at night clubs as a security guard and an apprentice light technician.

He also got a job as a houseman in the hospitality industry, earning $12 per hour, and a valet attendant working double shifts five days a week for a few years.

"I want to say dreams do come true and it starts by dreaming big and taking the first step. Sacrifices are going to have to be made. You might stumble along the way, but what's important is that we keep persevering and trust the process, and keep the faith. During my journey, I knew that eventually I would achieve my goal," he said.

Anderson was born in Portland to parents Cleo Bennett and Newton Anderson. He was raised by his mother in the community of Long Road, where they had to swim through an ocean of challenges.

He said not having a father figure in the early stage of his life meant his mother had to play both roles to provide.

Tajj Anderson provided landscaping services for neighbours and friends, worked at night clubs as a security guard and an apprentice light technician to raise money forschool..

His primary education was completed at Manchioneal All Age School where he was heavily involved in track and field. After passing the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) examinations, he went on to his first choice, Titchfield High School.

There, he spent seven years to attain a high school diploma and an associate degree in general studies, along with eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, and eight Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) units.

"My family came from a very humble beginning and always taught us the value of working hard for what we wanted and to always remain honest. My grandmother being a household helper was one of the catalysts to all our success as a family over the years. Hearing stories of how hard she had to work to make ends meet was an inspiration to the core values we uphold to this day," Anderson told the Sunday Observer.

"My mom and dad are both decent, upstanding citizens of the country, but never really saw the fruits of their labour financially, being a social development officer receiving the Prime Minister's Award and a haulage contractor respectively."

He always knew he wanted to be a pilot, specifically a helicopter pilot. This interest, he said, came about seeing the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) carrying out its duties that would sometimes come in contact with the civil world.

"Whether it was landing at parks or executing training exercises, I would always look to the skies and thought to myself, 'I would want that to be me some day… transporting the prime minister all around the country; I want to be that responsible for lives.' My mother, realising the passion I had developed, would stop whenever she saw a helicopter, just to allow me to have a glance. She was always supportive in whatever I did and encouraged me to do my best," he said, noting that he was fortunate enough a few times and granted the opportunity to get cockpit tours by the JDF pilots which increased his enthusiasm for aviation."

The Boscobel Jamaica Airshow at the Ian Fleming International airport in St Mary was the event that opened the door for his aviation career at the age of 10.

He said through various information booths that were offered, he learnt that the Caribbean Aviation Training Centre (CATC) was offering a mentorship programme to children.

The following year, he enrolled for the summer programme operated by Captain Errol Steward, where a number of youngsters started learning about aeroplanes, parts of the aeroplane, what makes an aeroplane fly, weather, among other things.

What made this programme interesting, "was the fact that at the end of the summer, we got the opportunity to fly the airplane with an instructor to get a first-hand experience. This was definitely the confirmation for most of us that this is what we wanted. Through my years of high school, I exercised my athletic talent through track and field until, unfortunately, I picked up an injury which would rule me out of competition for the season."

That injury, which seemed "unfortunate" then, gave impetus to him starting weekend classes while attending Sixth Form at Titchfield.

"Ground school... classes and various examinations that needed to be completed before the actually flight training could commence at the time was inexpensive and could be covered by the savings my mother had put away, paired with loans she had received through the Portland Cooperative Credit Union," he told the Sunday Observer.

Upon completing high school, he decided to pursue the career to become a commercial pilot, and in September of 2016, initiated his flight training at Tinson Pen with flight instructor Sheldon Irons and flew an airplane on his own after 6.4 hours, almost equaling the record of 6.2 hours.

During that time, his mother had exhausted all her financial options and they had to call upon family members for help. Some were able to assist, namely his father who became an "integral part of this journey," along with his aunt residing in England. He said they both allowed him to complete his private pilots licence in Jamaica.

"In October 2018, I migrated to the United States of America to reside with my uncle Charles Bennett and his wife Lorna Bennett who accommodated my stay while I went on to further my training… instrument ratings course allowing me to fly in less favorable weather conditions. This stage of my life can be described as one of the most difficult times of as a young adult and a part of my career," he said.

Moving from a lifestyle of what he knew all his life and to a totally different culture was at first, challenging for him. Nonetheless, he pushed on.

He enrolled at the Flying Academy Miami located in Kendall, Miami, after a few months of flying with instructors, but coping with the financial demands seemed impossible for his parents and his support team.

Taking on multiple jobs allowed him to complete his remaining courses.

"Surviving on four and a half hours of sleep each night... definitely the hardest part of all this was finding time after long 16 hour shifts to study and accumulating all the flight hours I needed. Over the years, I must say there were times I felt like giving up, but it's so important to surround yourself with positive people and family who will encourage and motivate you when times get rough.

"All these experiences have humbled me over the years, working from the bottom to where I am today. Working in the hospitality industry, problem solving and customer service were definitely skills I have picked up which I think are attributes I can demonstrate as a commercial pilot."

Anderson told the Sunday Observer that being a pilot has brought on an abundance of invaluable experiences.

"Whether it's flying early morning and seeing the sunrise, or evenings when the sunset is beyond anything you have seen. Becoming a pilot requires a lot concentration and the ability to make good decisions for the safety of yourself and your passengers.

"Additionally, learning to fly imposes on your everyday lifestyle as it instills the need for proper planning; checking the weather, regulations, checking every little detail to ensure safety, and most of all, professionalism," he said.

He added: "I want to personally thank everyone that has ever supported me, especially my godparents Katus Watson and Dr Karen Phillips, who aided me in many ways more than one; my mother who has been with me every step of the way and moulded me into the man I am today; my dad who stepped in when I needed him most financially, and playing that father role in the latter stages; my aunts and everyone who provided encouragement. We did it, and this achievement is for all of us."

BY ROMARDO LYONS Staff reporter

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