With a fresh PPL(H) and a heli technician licence in her pocket, at 19 years of age, Mona Seeberger was patting herself on the back for making some solid choices and sticking them out. Having begun her apprenticeship and her flight training three years earlier, it was now hour-building time – finally a chance to let loose and have some fun with it.
Mona decides she will do it the epic way. “I flew in British Colombia in a Cabri G2, and Croatia. We circumnavigated Italy, flying down the west coast and back up the east to Germany… it was amazing. It was such a great decision; a great way to get experience for CPL.”
Mona’s boyfriend – also a heli pilot – often accompanied her, and together they collected air-time over glaciers, landing in snowfields and controlled airspace in all kinds of different countries. “Do it!” she says. “Take some time and just go for two weeks somewhere – it is enough!”
Originally a backup plan due to the enormous expenditure of her flying, Mona felt completing the Fluggerätmechaniker (helicopter technician) apprenticeship would serve her well. Now, when asked if she feels having a mechanical background makes her a better pilot, she readily agrees.
“Definitely. In so many cases I’m so glad that I did that first… I’m so glad that I have this knowledge. I knew it would be a good idea to have both, but I didn’t realize until later that it was an awesome idea.”
For PPL level especially, aircraft systems and general knowledge is not an extensive subject. Ordinarily, it’s not until you get to CPL/ATPL level that you learn enough about it to give you the confidence that comes from really knowing your aircraft.
“It means I’m never scared. You should never be scared. You should have respect for the helicopter, yes, but knowing how everything works gives you great confidence and means you don’t worry so much about what could go wrong. You know it – and you are prepared.”
“Working as a helicopter mechanic was one of the best decisions I’ve made so far. Being responsible for inspecting, diagnosing, and troubleshooting any mechanical and technological problems, while also learning to work under pressure, is really cool. I’m very grateful for this experience. Especially now.”
Following two months of gallivanting about the globe beneath glimmering rotor blades, Mona settled in to complete her ATPLs.
“That was the hardest time in my aviation career. Tough one and a half years! My mentor was my boyfriend; I’m really thankful that he helped me out. Keeping up the study all the time, while working, can be frustrating.”
“If I’m honest, the moment after I got the letter that I passed, I was crying with happiness and drinking a double schnapps – at ten o’clock in the morning!”
2019 was a big year. “The company I had previously done my flying training closed, and I had to look for a new flight school. For this reason, I decided to go to beautiful Austria. In five months, though, I finished up my Commercial Pilot Licence and was the happiest kid around.”
“Right after I finished my CPL, I began looking for helicopter jobs and – just through messages I put out – I got my first job via Instagram. This company was looking for Flight Instructors, so straight away I went to Graz and completed my rating. I started working with them shortly after.”
The networks Mona established both during her time in the aviation mechanical engineering community and via online channels, such as social media and YouTube, have proven invaluable in her career. Not only have they enabled her to share her niche knowledge and experience with other pilots, they’ve also been the source of more than a few job offers. The latest – flying VIPs around the country in her first twin type, the EC135 – remarkably, arrived via direct message.
“I have been lucky; first of all, my network was already quite big because as a mechanic you have the opportunity to meet so many people in the industry. But then I use online platforms as well, for all sorts of things.”
“It is actually crazy. For example, once I finished my CPL, I uploaded a photo of me with the aircraft and something I’d written about how glad I was to complete it — I had, maybe, 105 people on LinkedIn at that time. And then, in one day, I suddenly had 45k likes and 4.9m views on that post. From all over the world. It was really, really crazy. I didn’t get a job directly from that moment, but it made me realize that the reach you have online is amazing.”
In February 2020, Mona started her own small business and scored a collaboration with the EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency), working in safety promotion. She shoots and cuts short videos for the Rotorcraft Together4Safety project, designed to remind pilots and people in the industry of important factors in flight and on the ground, such as pre-/post-flight at day or night time and decision making. These act as a funnel to articles and directives covering topics in more detail and are broadcast on YouTube and various other online platforms. She is also passionate about making sure aviation is an industry where women feel welcome and comfortable, filming and uploading her own flying experiences to raise awareness and inspire other girls to fly. Her vlogs offer an engaging, no-fuss insight into helicopter mechanics and flying privately in Europe.
With a strong work ethic, an emphasis on safety, and a steadfast approach to cruising the highways of the sky, Mona never ceases to encourage you to be the best pilot you can be – a point that becomes apparent after you’ve been speaking to her for only moments. I’m sure this is something she promotes in her instructing, which is terrific – it’s an important thing for upcoming pilots to apprehend.
“It’s a good and bad thing about aviation – it never stops. You are always learning, always being tested, always making sure to retain your proficiency,” she laughs. “Sometimes you wish to just have a year off, one year without testing or hard work!”
But that’s aviation, and she knows it.
“The most important thing is that you have respect for your aircraft, and take care, and that you don’t get that macho attitude that ‘things will never happen to me,’ you know?”
And so, to young pilots, especially those with a fresh PPL, she says, “Don’t worry: the more you practice, the more confident you get. You just need to know your aircraft – I know it’s easy for me to say, as a technician – but you really need to know your aircraft. And if you know your aircraft, this confidence is so helpful for your flying. Then it won’t matter so much where you fly – or with who.”
First published in HeliOps Magazine – Issue 131 (Kia Kaha Media) in ‘A Greater View’, a column profiling women in the heli industry