Taking to the Skies for International Women’s Day

Celebrating Bristol Groundschool’s Female Student Pilots

International Women’s Day is held every March to celebrate the achievements of women and to raise awareness about gender equality. This year, UK & Europe’s leading pilot theory training provider, Bristol Groundschool, is shining a spotlight on their female students who aspire to soar high above the clouds as pilots.

Despite the fact that women have been flying planes for over a century, they are still under-represented in the aviation industry. According to data from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, women make up just 4.7% of commercial pilots in the UK.

Since 1992, Bristol Groundschool has seen hundreds of women study to become pilots including those who have won scholarships with the British Women Pilots’ Association (BWPA).

Steph Smith

Steph Smith is one such student who won the 2022 BWPA Bristol Groundschool scholarship and is now studying for her ATPL exams. She said: “From a young age I declared I wanted to be a pilot, but the finances just weren’t available to me at the time, so I became an aircraft engineer instead. A friend once said ‘engineers are just frustrated pilots’, the more I thought about it the more I identified with it. So now I am chasing the dream to fly for a living.

“I did my PPL training with Turweston Flying Club and my night rating with Brize Flying Club,, it was slightly surreal to be flying from the base I work at and be in the circuit in a PA28 with all the large transport aircraft. The first lesson as we pushed the aircraft out, an A400M taxied past, I have never felt so small in a GA aircraft before! I know how large the aircraft is, as I work on them, but at that moment it just seemed so much bigger.”

Steph is currently studying for her ATPL exams at Bristol Groundschool. She said “Right now I am part way through Module 1, with the revision week booked in for May. Instrumentation has been the easiest topic to study so far, as it’s very similar to the material covered in my aircraft-type courses for my Part 66 B1 licence. It can seem daunting to be studying at home alone, however, the BGS webinars really help expand on the written notes and the BGS Facebook group is a great source of encouragement and information.

“At the end of March I am booked on a Sailplane Tow Rating course, I plan to use this qualification to help hour build towards my ATPL. Long term I’m not 100% certain, I know I do not plan to go to the airlines. I’m looking for something a little more unusual or quirky, roles like flying for the British Antarctic Survey or commercial seaplanes really appeal to me.”

When asked what advice she would give other women looking to become pilots, Steph said “Visit your local airfield or flying club and ask lots of questions, then consider joining an organisation like the British Women Pilots’ Association. They offer support and guidance, scholarships and the opportunity to make friends with pilots of all ages, types of flying and stages of their aviation journey. The BWPA has offered me invaluable experiences and supported me with a BWPA Easy PPL Ground School Scholarship in 2020 and then a BWPA Bristol Groundschool ATPL Scholarship in 2022.”

Daisy Bing is currently studying her ATPL theory with Bristol Groundschool and was inspired by her family to pursue a career in aviation. She said “ I’m lucky enough to be from an aviation family; my grandfather was a Search and Rescue rotary pilot in the RAF, and both of my parents are Cabin Crew, so I’ve grown up surrounded by flying and doing a lot of travelling.

“For my 14th birthday, I was taken up in a light aircraft for the first time and instantly fell in love with flying. Since then, I’ve known I want to be a pilot and I’ve done everything I can to progress my career in aviation; I joined the RAF Air Cadets, and then progressed into the University Air Squadron. I’ve worked within operations in flight schools and at a private jet company, I’ve been a member of ground crew at a handling company, and also as a member of a charter sales team.

Daisy Bing

“I’ve been so grateful to receive multiple flying scholarships which enabled me to complete my PPL(A) and night rating, and now I’m working full-time towards my ATPL theory exams with Bristol Groundschool, before hopefully commencing the rest of my training later on this year.

“Whilst the pilot lifestyle and lots of travelling certainly are appealing, for me, the passion comes from the flying itself. The feeling of flying solo is incredible, as well as being able to share my love of flying with family and friends. I love that flying is a skill to constantly work at – you are always able to learn something new and improve. I feel so lucky to have found my passion and to have the opportunity to pursue it.”

When asked about her plans for the future and her advice for other women looking to become pilots, Daisy said “I’d love to fly for a major airline and fly as many types of aircraft as possible. I’d also love to do some more work with aviation charities, without which I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today. I’d specifically like to work to promote women in aviation.

“Becoming a pilot is expensive and it often feels out of reach and simply impossible for a lot of people – I’d say to always apply for all the scholarships and bursaries on offer. Go to your local airport and talk to pilots, and don’t be scared to reach out to pilots online, as most will be happy to offer their advice. Try to get some work experience within the aviation industry, as this will help you massively throughout your career.

“Whilst sometimes the thought of entering a male-dominated industry can be intimidating, don’t let this put you off. The support I’ve received in this community really is amazing, and I know I’ve made some friends for life.”

Bristol Groundschool is UK & Europe’s leading ATPL and CPL modular theory provider with the option for distance learning, enabling students to learn from anywhere in the world.