At just 26 years old, Kate McWilliams has become the youngest ever female commercial airline pilot — according to her employer, EasyJet.
Her story is that of an inspirational rise through the ranks, proving that neither age nor gender need be a barrier to employability in the aviation sector.
Find out how Kate’s journey began, and look at the steps that EasyJet are taking to encourage more women to plan a career in aviation.
Having caught the flying bug as a child in Carlisle, Kate’s aviation training began when she joined the air cadets aged 13.
Though she thought her dream of becoming a commercial pilot was out of her reach, she commenced aviation training in Southampton, before joining EasyJet as a first officer in May 2011.
Kate then moved to Surrey in order to be closer to Gatwick Airport, and began studying for the EasyJet command course. Now that she’s successfully passed the course, Kate has become a fully-fledged airline captain in time for her 27th birthday.
She now flies the Airbus A319 and A320 to around 100 locations worldwide, including destinations as diverse as Iceland, Israel and Morocco.
Many people in their mid-twenties would baulk at taking on such responsibility, but Kate has taken the whole process in her stride, stating: “Personally I don’t think my age matters… I’ve been through the same training and passed the same command course as every other captain so I’ve proven myself capable regardless of my age.”
“I do now get asked how old I am on an almost daily basis which didn’t used to happen when I was a first officer… When I tell them I’m 26, most people are pleasantly surprised and impressed with my achievement at such a young age.”
The Amy Johnson Flying Initiative
On a global scale, just 5% of commercial pilots are female. EasyJet has made it its mission to address this balance, announcing plans to increase the proportion of women entering its training scheme to 12%.
The drive has been dubbed the ‘Amy Johnson Flying Initiative’, named after the pioneering British aviator who became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia.
The Government has been quick to welcome the move. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin launched the initiative alongside the national ‘Transport Skills Strategy’, which aims to attract more female workers into roles in transportation.
The first stage of the Amy Johnson Flying Initiative will see EasyJet (in partnership with the British Women Pilots’ Association) underwrite training costs of approximately £100,000 for six female entrants.
EasyJet has also committed to other measures designed to improve the development and retention of female pilots, including:
- Working with training providers to encourage more women to apply for the cadet programme
- Supporting organisations that promote female uptake of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths)
- Enhancing the mentorship scheme for female pilots
- Guaranteeing loans for A320 type ratings to encourage female pilots to enter from other airlines
Julie Westhorp, chairwoman of the British Women Pilots’ Association (BWPA), commented: “Both the BWPA and EasyJet are aware of the importance of visible role models for girls and young women when making career choices and continue to work together to encourage young women to consider a pilot career.”
“The BWPA partnership with EasyJet in the launch of the Amy Johnson Flying Initiative represents a step change in the promotion of flying careers to women. We believe this will make a real difference in supporting the entry of more young women onto a career path where a significant barrier to entry has been financial, not aptitude.”
“The BWPA has every confidence that this initiative will be a success and we sincerely hope that it will become best practice in the industry a whole.”
Training schemes like the Amy Johnson Flying Initiative are among the most successful in bringing more women into the aviation industry. This enables airlines to tap into a potentially massive well of talent that could help to offset the looming pilot skills shortage.
Find out how AeroProfessional can help you find highly motivated aviation industry candidates.