Although the demand for pilots in today’s aviation is bigger than ever, coming across a female in the cockpit is still very rare. According to Gender Gap Grader, women account for approximately 5% of airline commercial pilots globally. To celebrate the successes of women in the industry and raise awareness of roles where women are still under-represented, we talked to one of our female pilots Rūta about her experience as a female First Officer, challenges she faces and the future of the industry.
What is your background? What sparked the interest in becoming a pilot?
When finishing school and deciding on what career to pursue, I relied on what I was good at, what interested me, and bounced off that. In school, it is hard to really understand what, let’s say, an engineer does while it is much more simple to imagine what pilot’s job is about. So I weighed my skills and disposition and entered VGTU AGAI, Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (Antanas Gustaitis’ Aviation Institute).
What was the gender demographics at your university?
Out of 18 people, there were 4 girls. I would say it’s quite good because I remember that in the group that started studying the following year there was only 1 girl out of 18 students.
Did you feel that you were not looked at with the same potential?
I was lucky enough to have had an instructor that had worked with women before, so he showed nothing but support and never tried to kill my motivation. Generally, I haven’t come across a single man in aviation who would say that a woman can’t be a pilot. My friends did, but never my colleagues.
Aviation is a male-dominated industry, yet more and more women are choosing it as their career. What are some of the misconceptions about women in aviation? Have you ever got into a weird situation because of your gender?
Sometimes passengers stare at me while I’m walking through the jet-bridge. However, no one ever refused to fly or said anything. Not that I know anyway.
All men that I worked with, especially those with a lot of experience, were very friendly. They always tried to share their knowledge, listened to me and, most importantly, heard what I had to say. Maybe there is bigger competition between two men in a cockpit than between a man and a woman.
Do you feel a great deal of responsibility as a female pilot to break the ‘glass ceiling’?
I haven’t really thought about it, but I think yes. Since it is predominantly male industry, I know that if I make a mistake, it will be our, women’s, mistake. Back at university if a girl failed, everyone knew about it. However, in Avion Express I don’t feel pressured, we are a team of people who feel responsible for each other, help each other. If anything, I now feel bigger responsibility representing my university. Because I know that if we are bad pilots, the shadow will fall on other alumni and students.
If gender isn’t a particular problem, what is the greatest challenge for you?
To balance work and personal life. I don’t fly from Lithuania, but this is where my family is. At first, the most challenging part was to prepare a plane for the flight, now it is to have time for the family.
What’s the one thing you always pack for every flight?
ID (laughs). I have forgotten it a few times.
What do you do in such situations?
It depends on the airport. In Barcelona, for example, it was enough to show the passport and licence. In the UK, you have to go back to pick up your ID, that’s the only way.
What do you love about your job?
That I see the sun every day! Even on the greyest of days I still see the sun. And every day is different. Even if you fly from the same airport, it’s still not the same. I love flying, I love the people that I meet in this job. We are a community. You can especially feel it among the pilots.
What’s your least favourite thing about your job?
Early morning flights (laughs). I’m also not fond of plane food. It doesn’t even matter what type of food. I don’t like it in general. So, not being able to go and eat out wherever and whenever I want is not the best part.
What has the biggest change in aviation been during your flying career?
When I started university, the industry was experiencing a crisis, a lot of airlines went bankrupt. At university, we didn’t know whether we will have a job or not. It was like a lottery. Now the situation has changed. The doors are opening. The demand for pilots is growing. Now you can get a job way easier even with no previous experience to satisfy the demand for pilots.
How do you think the industry will change in the next couple of years?
The industry has changed a lot in recent years. It all depends on the economy. If there is an economic crisis, there’ll be an aviation crisis too. It used to be luxury and now it is available to everyone. I think that market will keep growing and there’ll always be a need for pilots. One company closes, another one opens. Today’s generation travels since early childhood, so the demand for air travel won’t go anywhere. That’s for sure.
What advice would you give to young girls who are interested in becoming pilots?
The modern aviation industry is a little bit different from the one I stepped into. The best piece of advice I could give is “don’t rush and don’t push yourself too hard”. Today’s market offers a lot of opportunities, and if you put enough effort, you will definitely get a job. The beginning is hard for everyone, so just enjoy! Don’t pursue money. Don’t forget why you like it, why you have started.