In recent years, airlines have been stepping up their efforts to encourage women to take to the flight deck and become airline pilots. Most recently, Easyjet has reopened their pilot training scheme by promoting some of their most recent recruiters including mum-of-two, captain Iris de Kan, and former gymnast, now turned senior first officer, Nina Le.
Despite this, women only make up about 4.7% of pilots in the UK according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.
Since 1992, Bristol Groundschool has seen hundreds of women study to become pilots including those who have won scholarships with the British Womens’ Pilot Association and the Air League.
Cherry Charters was one such student to study with Bristol Groundschool as a recipient of the 2016 Air League Bristol Groundschool scholarship. She said “ I remember travelling to Hong Kong from London via train for two months along the Trans Siberian express route and taking my paper whizz wheel and study material with me to continue studying on the long train journeys across Russia and Mongolia. I got quite a lot of studying done as at some points the train didn’t stop for 4 consecutive days! The classes in Bristol were very good and there was a good support system. I would always recommend the distance learning and modular route if you are a self-motivated individual as you can your build and you will save a lot of money.”
After completing her ATPL studies, Cherry became a pilot with Charter airline Susi Air, based out of Indonesia.
“In February 2021, I received an email from Susi Air inviting me out to Indonesia. By June 2021 I was in Indonesia completing the training as a First Officer on the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan and I’ve been here ever since.
“[The best part about my job is] the views from cockpit, especially here in Indonesia. Flying at 11,000ft and still seeing volcanoes and mountains beside and above you. From the gorgeous cloud formations and the endless jungle to island hopping in the Mentawai Islands or the Riau Archipelago. Medical evacuations are very rewarding as you feel like you are helping people who would otherwise have to go by road which would take all day, or by boat if they live on one of the remote islands we often fly to. There is never a dull moment flying for Susi Air; it’s like a big family as the pilots and mechanics live and work together and the flying is sensational. We are busy flying out here and I often do 100 hours a month. It’s an incredible experience for building skills as it involves up to 9 sectors a day meaning lots of landings and hand flying, with a variety of cargo from local people to live lobsters!
“It is as good as I dreamed for all those years. I am grateful that I have continued to fly throughout the pandemic, and I am grateful that my company reached out to me when they were able to and continue my intake process from before covid even existed. Loyalty in aviation is valuable for both pilot and airline.”
BGS alumna, Olivia Olphert, completed her ATPLs in 2021 and as of Spring 2022 will be the only female seaplane pilot working for Loch Lomond Seaplanes.
Olivia said “When I was young, my Mum was cabin crew for Tui, so going on holiday the crew were often friends of hers and would allow me to visit the flight deck after the flight which always excited me just as much as the holiday! I was given a trial lesson for my 14th birthday which completely gave me ‘the bug’ and I set my sights firmly on this job.
“I completed my training alongside a part-time Maths degree with the University of St Andrews, therefore I chose a modular route. After my PPL I did my hours building with Pilot’s Paradise in Florida before coming back to do my ATPL theory exams with Bristol Groundschool. Due to Covid, my degree studying went online which allowed me to complete my commercial training with Aeros Flight Training, primarily from their Cardiff base.
“Flying a floatplane has always been at the top of my dream bucket list. After completing the MEIR, I travelled to Prestwick to do the SEP (sea) rating with Scotia Seaplanes which was the most incredible rating, and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering giving floats a go!
“One of the things I really enjoy about being in this industry is meeting so many different people along the journey through training, and now as passengers, other crew, operations, etc. I have found that as much as there is always something to learn from the manuals, there is always something to be learned from all the people I now interact with on a daily basis, and I really enjoy the diverse range of backgrounds and stories people have and share.”
During the covid 19 pandemic, pilot training was severely affected with temporary closures of flight schools. During this time, Bristol Groundschool moved all training online with the introduction of live and recorded webinars.
Olivia Olphert said “As I studied for the ATPL exams part-time alongside university, it was definitely a challenge which sometimes felt like a losing battle. Time management was definitely one of the bigger challenges I found with studying part-time, but the BGS training software offered great structure to tackle each module in an order really effective for absorbing the content.
“Due to the pandemic, my MEIR instructor was made redundant from BA and therefore temporarily returned to instructing. I feel privileged to have had him conduct this portion of my commercial training as coming straight from the airlines, he was able to illustrate the real-life applications of the training, ensuring the style of instruction reflected what we might expect from airline SOPs, and offered soft skills support as is assessed at interview.”
When asked what advice she would give to women looking to become pilots, Olivia said “My biggest piece of advice to women looking to become pilots would be to go for it! Although it can seem daunting entering an industry currently largely male-dominated, the statistics are changing, and aviation is becoming increasingly more accepting of diversity! It can be tough at times but having a good support structure and a focused goal helps to push through.
Fewer than 6% of pilots worldwide are female, but by networking and meeting other women pilots, there is a lot of support available from people who may have experienced similar challenges as you.
“Personally, I’m lucky enough to have had a really positive experience as a woman in aviation and have been welcomed into the workplace warmly by all the team at Loch Lomond Seaplanes, but I appreciate this isn’t always the case for women in other schools/airlines.”
Bristol Groundschool is Europe’s leading ATPL and CPL modular theory provider with the option for distance learning, enabling students to learn from anywhere in the world.