At the tender age of four years old, on a plane en route to Barbados from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Ophneal Kellman declared to his parents that he would be piloting an aircraft on that same route one day.
Yesterday, just after 12:30 p.m., Captain Kellman experienced a phenomenal sense of accomplishment when he touched down at the Grantley Adams International Airport in command of the newly launched A321 aircraft and was welcomed by family, friends and officials as the first Barbadian captain of a JetBlue plane.
The 37-year-old told Barbados TODAY that it was the most fulfilling feeling of his 19-year career.
In fact, he explained that when he found out two days ago about the assignment he was thrilled. Leading up to the moments before takeoff at JFK, he was nervous because he wanted to ensure that everything went the way it should.
“I have been wanting to do that since I was a child and I was happy for that day to come. Only so many airlines do a direct flight from JFK to BGI and I have been wanting to do that forever. This is truly a big deal and I was honoured to be able to do it,” said Kellman.
He attended flight school at the State University of New York and was privileged to have flown chartered and commercial flights to countries in North America, South America and the Caribbean.
But establishing himself in the field was not always a smooth ride for him. Indeed, Kellman went through some personal turbulence and unsure landings.
When the industry experienced its ups and downs, he was forced to jump financial hurdles, and find ways to overcome issues he encountered during college. Those challenges and more, he said, threatened to get in the way of him achieving his dream.
“After 9/11, when the industry saw a downturn, there wasn’t much hiring. In fact, a lot of guys were getting laid off and at that time it seemed like, with all these guys getting laid off who have more experience than I do, how will I ever get in because they are going to be competing with me for the same jobs.
“The competition was fierce during that period. And the truth is, there weren’t many jobs to apply for at that time and I was just sending resumes to companies that weren’t even hiring at that time, just to let them know that I existed.”
Holding on to faith and determination, Kellman went after jobs that some pilots refused to take.
“I was going after jobs that weren’t the most glamorous . . . . I did a chartered job that kept me on duty always; there never was a time when I wasn’t on duty with this company. They called me throughout the night and wanted me to be at the airport within 20 minutes of them calling me and ready
to fly almost immediately. I also took jobs where the airplanes weren’t in the best condition but I did what I had to do.”
Proud to say that he beat the odds, Kellman is the first of two Barbadian pilots currently working with JetBlue. He has been there since 2007 and has never regretted a moment in the air.
“I experience the best feeling when I am leaving the airplane, walking out of the airport and I see families greeting each other. I say to myself, ‘wow, you had something to do with that’. And then, obviously, for every pilot, we feel good when we have a nice landing because that’s very rewarding. I really love what I do,” said the satisfied pilot who resides in Brooklyn, New York with his wife Lisette.
He was born to Barbadian parents Margaret and Ophneal Kellman Snr. – two immigrants living in New York who sacrificed their last, at times, to ensure his needs and those of his sister were met and their educational goals achieved.
“They had a really hard time and through hard work they were able to put me through school. Actually, my parents went without a lot so that I wouldn’t feel the pinch. They put me through school and did a lot of things that most people wouldn’t even want to do,” he told Barbados TODAY.
And whenever the pilot has more than three days off duty, he is in Barbados to spend precious moments with family.
“And the sun and sea too,” Kellman added with a laugh.
“The truth is, Barbados is home away from home for me because this is where all my family is and my parents live here. When I come here I am around family but when I am in New York I am just around my sister and a few cousins. I am always in Barbados and I am always enjoying it. Barbados is home away from home.”
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