SINGAPORE: Sitting in a cockpit and piloting an aeroplane may not be the first option for many women, but a small number of them are leading Singapore's aviation industry.
One such trailblazer is First Officer Vanessa Khaw, who is one of Tigerair’s 16 female pilots. A former stewardess, piloting a commercial jet was never part of her career plan. It was her former colleagues who first suggested she become a pilot.
Ms Khaw recounted: "I was quite incredulous and said, ‘Are you crazy? Do female pilots actually fly?’ I was not even open to the idea because all these years, I have not been exposed to anyone who is flying, let alone females.
"So I did some research and I actually found a flying school in Johor Bahru in Senai airport. I signed up and I went for my first flight and after that I never looked back.”
But it has not been an easy road. The 30-year-old underwent one-and-a-half years of intensive aviation training.
Ms Khaw and her fellow female pilots make up 6 per cent of all pilots in Singapore. They all work for SilkAir, Jetstar Asia, Scoot and Tigerair. Currently, Singapore Airlines does not have any female pilots, even though a spokesperson from the national carrier said it does not have a policy against their recruitment.
Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore show that the number of pilots in Singapore has remained consistent over the past few years. The ratio of male to female pilots has also not changed very much. Currently, there are only 27 women pilots and more than half of them work at Tigerair.
Captain Eugene Antoni, who is director of flight operations at Tigerair, is one of the key personnel involved in the recruitment of Tigerair pilots.
"Tigerair's recruitment policies are consistent and not gender-specific. We are looking for elements of standards, and standards can be broken up to technical and non-technical standards. And as long as the candidate meets these exacting standards, if we have a vacancy, we will employ them,” he said.
He believes that the job is attractive to women because it offers work-life balance.
"We do not fly any longer than about five-and-a-half hours away from Singapore. Our crew return back every night. And I think female pilots who are of the persuasion of raising a family might find that more attractive and naturally gravitate towards carriers that tend to return home more often,” Mr Antoni added.
HOW DOES ONE BECOME A PILOT?
One way to become a pilot would be to start with a degree from the Singapore Aviation Academy.
Mr Antoni said: "I would hope that female aviators or female enthusiasts who are keen to take on flying embark themselves on one of the degree courses available to see and open up their scope that flying is not just about bringing an aeroplane from A to B.
"It is about managing the total systems and managing passengers' expectations, it is a degree of efficiency. But first and foremost, it is about having those skills to come.”
With those skills, one can then move on to flying school in order to get a licence.
As for Ms Khaw, the decision to take a bus to Johor Bahru and go to aviation school got her flying high.
"I think this career is very rewarding but it is also very personal. Not everyone will like this job. Not everyone can take the pressure. You get that sense of satisfaction. And you do not have to bring your work home. You actually get a lot of free time. Your job ends after you shut off your aircraft,” she said.
So the next time you hear a female voice from the cockpit, you will know you have just been served by one of Singapore's few female pilots.
Article taken from ChannelNewsAsia
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