ASU alum Cory Pettit took a long and winding road toward his career as a Southwest Airlines pilot, and he has now played a key role in giving ASU commercial aviation students the chance to take a much shorter one.
A West Texas native of Crane, Pettit came to ASU and joined ROTC Detachment 847 with dreams of following in his father’s footsteps as a military fighter pilot. But the U.S. military’s personnel reductions in the 1990s convinced him to change his career track.
“My time at ASU was a turning point in my life,” Pettit said. “The organizations I participated in while in school helped open up the many possibilities that existed outside of Crane. It was eye opening for me and helped shape my career in many ways.”
After graduating in 1998 with his bachelor’s degree in psychology, Pettit moved to Abilene, opened several sports nutrition stores, and was a social worker for MHMR. At the same time, his brother and some friends were flying aircraft for a company out of Brussels, Belgium, and their experiences eventually convinced Pettit to cut his ties with Abilene and resume his dream of becoming a pilot.
After flight school, Pettit racked up a variety of flight experience, including flying traffic watch in Los Angeles and Dallas, working as a private pilot, and flying cargo planes for Express One International. When the commercial airline industry began to recover after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he jumped at a chance to join Southwest Airlines in 2004.
“They hadn’t interviewed for new pilots for three years,” Pettit said. “I was fortunate enough to get an interview on the first day they started interviewing again, and I got hired. That was nearly 19 years ago, and here I am.”
As a captain for Southwest, Pettit has flown to nearly all of the airline’s 121 destinations across 11 countries. His favorite destinations were Spokane, Wash., in the summer and Costa Rica or Puerto Rico in the winter as he chased milder climates.
“My time at ASU was a turning point in my life.”
Now also a manager of pilot recruiting and onboarding for Southwest, Pettit was instrumental in ASU being added as a university partner in Southwest’s Destination 225? pilot recruitment program that will provide ASU commercial aviation students the opportunity for a much more defined career path than the one he had.
“We used to laugh and say we had to beg, borrow and steal for flight time,” Pettit said. “Lick your finger, stick it up in the air to see which way the wind was blowing, and hope you were at the right place and the right time. But the Destination 225? program takes all that guesswork and luck out of becoming a commercial pilot because Southwest and our partners have built that pathway for the next generation of aviators.”
“What ASU commercial aviation students have to do is to keep their nose clean, study and work hard, and become the most proficient pilot they can be,” he added. “We’re going to put the opportunities in front of them – they won’t have to go look for them.”
Ironically, getting those opportunities for ASU students actually was a case of perfect timing. Pettit had just read about ASU’s new commercial aviation program in the ASU Rambouillet magazine at almost the exact same time that a retired Southwest pilot with ASU ties had convinced President Ronnie Hawkins Jr. to contact Pettit about Destination 225?. That first contact laid the groundwork for ASU becoming a university partner with Southwest this summer.
“With Angelo State not being a giant school, people outside of Texas don’t necessarily have ASU on their radar,” Pettit said. “Now that ASU is on the map in the aviation community, it’s really cool and it makes me very proud to have been a part of that and to get to bring the Southwest Airlines culture and this career opportunity to ASU students.”
And, despite all his successes, Pettit has never forgotten where he came from.
“I’ve always been proud that I went to ASU,” he said. “There aren’t many places in the world where a kid from a one-stop-light town can venture into a city and find immediate success and lifelong friends. I will forever cherish my memories of ASU.”