Bucks looking to help change perceptions around female pilots

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Date: 2nd Nov 2018

‘Hello, this is your captain speaking’. The Associate Head of Aviation and Security at Buckinghamshire New University wants increasing numbers of passengers to be hearing a woman’s voice say those words.

Dr David Warnock-Smith (pictured) concedes that the role of a pilot has generally been seen as a male profession but said the University was seeing a growth in female students on its BA (Hons) Air Transport with Commercial Pilot Training degree.Dr David Warnock-Smith

He hopes to see that continue and expects to hear from more prospective female students at Pilot Careers Live, Europe’s largest independent flight training exhibition, at the Sofitel Hotel at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport this weekend.

Dr Warnock-Smith said 15 per cent of the students on the degree, a total of 22, were female. There are ten on the first year now, which compares to three on the first year two years ago.

According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, there are 7,500 women airline pilots working worldwide, around 5.18 per cent of the total.

“I feel that the industry, universities, approved training organisations (ATOs), schools and government can all still do more collectively to make the pilot profession more accessible and attractive to girls and from a young age,” said Dr Warnock-Smith.

“We are at a time when the industry is looking for ways to increase the number of female pilots both to address the current gender imbalance and to help the address the commercial pilot skills gap.

Fareeha Ahmed“At Bucks New University our approach at Open Events, and external recruitment and outreach events, has been to use our Pilot students and alumni, men and women, and many of whom are now in active pilot roles with airlines, to showcase that anything is possible.

“With hard work and dedication it is possible to help create and achieve the dream of becoming a pilot regardless of background, gender, ethnicity or religion.

“The aim is to eventually ensure that your gender doesn’t matter when becoming a pilot.

“This does not mean that the numbers have to be exactly balanced, but rather that there will come a time when gender will no longer be an issue or a barrier, real or perceived, to entry into the profession.

“We are looking forward to meeting more aspiring female pilots this weekend and we are sure they would develop their careers well with the programme we offer.”

Currently five per cent of the over 2,600 pilots employed by easyJet are female and women make up five to six per cent of its new entrant pilots. It plans to double the proportion of female new entrants to 12 per cent over the next two years.

Among its female pilots is Charlotte Sullivan, who also studied BSc (Hons) Air Transport with Commercial Pilot Training, graduating in 2016, and was among young pilots shown going through training in the ITV 1 programme easyJet: Inside the Cockpit last year. 

Fareeha Ahmed (pictured above) is starting her second year studying BSc (Hons) Air Transport with Commercial Pilot Training, the next step towards her goal of taking to the skies in her ‘dream job’, and hopes to inspire other women to pursue the role.

She says her gender meant she’d already been forced to overcome scepticism that she should even be pursuing the vocation.

Fareeha added: “I am one of a handful of women on the course but have never felt I was treated any differently to my peers.

“Immediately after starting the course I knew I wanted to be a course ambassador to encourage more females who aspired to join the course when they visited on Open Days.

“The University has encouraged us to spend time with the students from the other years. This has really helped me gain confidence as it allowed me to make really good friends, both male and female, whom I could go to for advice as well as being able to talk to.”

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