Water sprayed from two fire hoses greeted Janis Keown-Blackburn as her flight landed on the runway Wednesday at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township.
It was her final salute for a 36-year career as a pilot, 14 of which were spent with Spirit Airlines.
“It was a very, very hard day,” Keown-Blackburn, 64, of Belmar, Monmouth County, said about her forced retirement on the eve of her 65th birthday.
Keown-Blackburn’s career aspirations began at a young age as she watched small planes flying overhead, she said. At that time, she wanted to be a flight attendant “because that is what girls did in the 1960s,” she said.
Since then, she has seen many changes in the industry. But, Keown-Blackburn said, “the flying is still the same.”
She has seen changes in technology and federal deregulation.
“With deregulation, prices came down. A lot more people are flying today than in ’70s,” she said.
The change opened up opportunities for families to take their children on vacation.
“Our flights are always full,” she said.
The industry saw changes following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, including fortified cockpit doors and more sophisticated in the equipment.
Her final landing Wednesday was challenged by gusty winds at the airport.
“It was not my prettiest landing,” said Keown-Blackburn, who has been with Spirit since 1999 and is the airline’s first female pilot to retire.
“The weather was horrible, and we missed the first approach because of the wind shear. We had to come around and do the entry again,” she said.
A pilot’s schedule is usually four to five days of work and then four days off, she said. After four days, she said, she will “probably start packing my suitcase again” without realizing she doesn’t have to work.
According to FAA rules, Keown-Blackburn is not allowed to fly commercially but she can be a flight instructor. She also is working on a children’s book.
Staff Writer Hoa Nguyen contributed to this report.
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