Kelli O’Donnell


Kelli is a single engine land and single engine sea private pilot who also has her complex and high-performance endorsements. She is single parent to two wonderful daughters and works as a fisheries biologist for NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

Kelli began flying in 2016 while living on a private airstrip in the Florida Keys. Flying over the Keys and the coral reef introduced her to the possibilities of using seaplanes to help study and preserve marine wildlife. She believes there is value to surveying and transporting researchers via seaplane for research trips and SCUBA diving. Furthermore, she sees seaplanes being utilized for offshore sea turtle releases and faster transport of scientific samples collected in remote, offshore areas, which could reduce stress. Ultimately, she plans to enhance her passions for the ocean and flying by becoming a commercial seaplane pilot, merging two careers, and starting an aerial marine biology business.

Kelli is currently working on her instrument rating and is an active aviation community participant. She is a member and officer of her local Ninety-Nines Chapter, a member of Women in Aviation, and a member of Seaplane Pilots Association. She volunteers through multiple opportunities within the Ninety-Nines at the Chapter, Section, and International level; with the non-profit Turtles Fly Too, which includes organizing a sea turtle rescue fly-in, and serving as the Southeast liaison; with Seaplane Pilots Association, which includes updating the Florida water landing directory; with EAA at Young Eagles Events; at Sun ‘n Fun; and participating as a member of the City of Clearwater Airpark Advisory Board.

Kelli is grateful for the “village” of aviation contacts that have encouraged and mentored her to get her to where she is today, including the support as a Dare to Dream Scholarship recipient. This scholarship will allow her to complete her instrument training on a more expedient timeline and be one step closer to her aviation goal.