Air New Zealand pilot on why the aviation industry needs more female pilots

OPINION, June 11, 2018: “If girls were meant to fly the sky would be pink”. If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that phrase over the past 30 years.

My family didn’t travel much, and I didn’t even ride in a plane until I was about 15-years-old.

“If you’re going to be on the plane you might as well be the captain” is something I recall my parents saying to me when I was about 10.

Looking back, I think I was very lucky to have role model parents who both worked hard, and who pushed me in the direction I wanted to go, despite growing up in the Far North where traditionally boys went farming or truck driving and girls went to work in the bank.

Being the only girl is something I’ve experienced most of my life, going right back to my sixth form physics class. It’s something I’ve never really felt comfortable with, but I’ve made it work. Today while most of my work days tend to be spent alongside an all-male flight deck crew, there is nothing more exciting that when my roster shows another female pilot on the crew.

Sadly, the numbers of female pilots aren’t increasing at jet speed. When I started out in the industry, around 30 years ago, around 3 per cent of the world’s airline pilots were women. That number is now roughly 5 per cent. It’s a staggering statistic when you consider the likes of Jean Batten and Amelia Earhart took to the skies nearly a century ago, and astronaut Valentina Tereshkova was not only the first woman in space in 1963, but she did it solo and at the age of 26.

It’s no wonder then that the question I’m asked most often is “do you actually get to fly the plane?”.

While airlines are doing more these days to encourage young women into the pilot profession, many of my friends and …

While airlines are doing more these days to encourage young women into the pilot profession, many of my friends and colleagues have recognised we also need to promote change ourselves.

When you think about it, passengers don’t necessarily always see a female pilot when flying or walking through the airport, so for me it’s about maximising the opportunity when I’m in uniform, whether I’m walking through the terminal, waiting on a transfer bus, or at the boarding gate I always take the time to smile, chat and answer questions, because there are always plenty.

While airlines are doing more these days to encourage young women into the pilot profession, many of my friends and colleagues have recognised we also need to promote change ourselves. We have come together globally to inspire and motivate younger generations of women to consider aviation as a career according to reports published in stuff.co.nz

At the end of the day we love our job and we’re good at it. Some of our female traits make us well suited to the role. For instance, integral skills such as organisation, communication and people management, along with multi-tasking are arguably more traditionally female strengths. The job is so much more than just mathematics, physics and pushing buttons, and while STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) need to be made more attractive to women, it’s important to recognise they are just one part.

The future ahead won’t be without its challenges but at the same time it’s exciting, as we educate the next generation through mentoring, women in aviation conferences, events and meet ups and using social media to encourage, support and inspire.

It’s also great to see more airlines starting to undertake new initiatives to attract female pilots including underwriting loans, providing scholarships and training programmes and using female pilots in marketing activity.

At the end of the day, as women in this industry we want to pay it forward and leave a legacy, we want to ensure the flight path behind us is a much easier one to navigate.

And as I get to see more than my fair share of beautiful sunrises and sunsets from the best office window in the world, I can honestly tell you the sky is often pink, and I will take every opportunity to snap and share that, because if I can inspire just one young woman to become a pilot then I am succeeding.

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