Why did you train to become a pilot?
When I was 19 and a student I started to work as a secretary in an aviation company. Within months of working there, I grew a passion for aviation and fell in love with the idea of being a pilot. I started in flight operations and became exposed to pilots, hearing their stories and how they explained things.
Despite my growing interest, I knew the cost and felt like it was impossible for me, something that was entirely out of my reach.
No turning back
I saved every penny I could and eventually saved up enough money to complete my Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL). For me, it made sense to start by only focusing on that aspect of the training. I told myself that the PPL was financially a lower risk than enrolling straight onto an integrated course. It gave me time to save just enough money and was an excellent place to start my training. I felt that if I succeed at this stage, it will give me the knowledge and confidence to decide whether I could progress on to the more advanced training required of airline pilots.
The problem was there would never be any turning back after experiencing what it was like to fly – I instantly became addicted. I knew that I would never be happy if I didn’t now follow my dream.
Finding the right flight school
I researched all the pilot training, and my boss who is also a mentor to me said to go to the states and train over there. It was a UK certified flight school but based in Florida, and you gained an EU licence at the end of your training. It was only possible with thanks to funds from my parents and a personal loan. After I had completed my commercial training, I had to find somewhere to complete my IR (in the US you cannot do your instrument rating).
I looked around Europe and the UK and first looked at a few, large flight schools based in the South of England and their prices were well out of reach. I was also very disappointed by their customer service. Through further research, I discovered FTA and everything felt happy. I got a response within hours and had all the answers to my questions. Stuart (the Admissions Officer at the time) was friendly and helpful.
Why do more women not train to become a pilot?
I can only think that the low number of women training to be pilots is down to old society and media projections which reinforce the image of pilots being male, but also that the training is purely for those with extraordinary talent and abilities.
Around 10% of the pilots at airBaltic are female which is a positive thing, especially as Soviet countries they are very male-dominated.
I have personally, never encountered negativity as a female pilot from colleagues and companies, such as airBaltic seem to be promoting more and more, the idea of becoming a pilot to females. This can only have a positive impact on the numbers.
My funniest reaction was a time when I was flying to Russia, and I had to leave the cockpit to use the toilets. A little old lady was sat on the front seat, and she went white with fright when she saw me in uniform. She had no idea that women could fly and asked he companion whether it was ‘safe’.
For me, pilot training was not a childhood dream. Even when you start flying as a pilot, there are struggles. You often work long days, long hours flying during the night when everyone else is asleep. If you don’t have the right passion, it will be tough. It was never going to be straightforward – myself and my boyfriend are both pilots, and we live between two different countries in Sweden (where my boyfriend is based) and Latvia. It is a 50-minute flight, so it is easy to commute. We spend some days in a month in Sweden and the rest in Latvia.
airBaltic is growing fast as a company, and there are lots of opportunities. I am a First Officer on the Dash, and when you get to a certain level of hours you have the chance to upgrade to become a Captain, and that is one of my next goals. I would love to fly a jet aeroplane and travel a bit further away – but that is something that will wait until my son is older.
I love the dynamic of being a pilot, we do the same route, but we fly in different weather, and you have contact with different people from all sides of the business. I also love that everyone shares that passion. I enjoy the diversity of the workplace and having frequent contact with people of different nationalities; we have people from all over the world.
What advice would you give to those embarking on training to become a pilot?
As great as it is to be a pilot, you need to be resilient. You will experience setbacks in your career and your training. Sometimes a flight doesn’t go to plan, or you struggle with grasping an ATPL module or subject. But this training and development doesn’t stop - even once you become a pilot. Every six months you have to return to the simulators and keep up your training to stay sharp and current.
Of course as a woman and a mother balancing life as a pilot can be very challenging. Often the mother can be the primary caregiver, and also manage the life and schedules of the family. This work-life balance does come with its demands. However, my company have been very supportive, and we as a family have been able to make it work and are very happy.
Support from across the profession
The small number of women working as pilots has a profound impact on the role. There is a powerful community in the industry, we champion each other’s achievements and are very supportive of one another. In fact, my favourite flights are those when we have an all-female crew. We have a female Captains, and when we all work together, it is very empowering – the ultimate experience.
The only way we can tackle the low number of female pilots is by sharing stories and images and increasing the information and representation of the pilot as a female-friendly career.