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Being a Female Pilot

Vital Statistics
  • Hours: Highly variable depending on route. Not a 9 amto 5pm job! Days can range from 3 to 12 hours.

  • Starting salary: Salaries for more experienced pilots can range from £36,000 to £48,000 in a first officer role. The starting salary for a captain with a medium-sized airline may range from £57,000 to £78,000. Those employed by major operators can earn £97,000 to more than £140,000.

  • Qualifications required: Nicky has a Commercial Pilots Licence (with an Instrument Rating and a Multi-Engine Rating.)

What's it like being a Pilot?

Nicky is a pilot based in Chichester, UK. She spends her time flying around the world!

Job title: Pilot - Calibration

Current employerFlight Calibration Services

Industry: Aviation

Hours: Typically a pilot are not permitted to fly more than 1,000 hours per year, 125 hours in a month and 30 hours in a week. However, pilots are required to report at dispatch about 60 to 90 minutes before departure. They must get at least one day off after seven consecutive days of duty.

How long have you been in this field: 5 years

Locatoin: Chichester but work worldwide.

What's it like being a pilot?

 I fly for a Calibration company testing ground-based landing systems and navigation aids at airports  (these are markers which help us locate the airport and land) . We have specialist equipment in our aircraft that takes detailed information from the navigation aid or landing system. We fly a series of different profiles to check that everything is working properly and giving the correct guidance to all other aircraft.

What do you do in your job? What does a typical day look like?

It can vary. Sometimes I’ll fly all over the world to different airports, or I’ll be based in the UK. A typical day in the UK would be getting to the airport (currently our aircraft are based at Shoreham on the South coast) around 8am, 1 hour before the planned departure. I check the aircraft out to make sure it is ready, has enough fuel and oil and everything is working properly. Assuming everything is in good order, I’ll then telephone our client at the destination airport to give them our estimated time of arrival as well as plan the route, check the weather and ensure we have all the equipment needed on board and serviceable.

I then fly to the destination airport for that day and have a briefing with the engineers and Air Traffic to discuss what we plan to do and how I’ll land. We refuel as required and then get airborne.

I fly a series of different profiles (a flight profile is a graphical step-by-step depiction of a maneuver or phase of flight), and I’ll record and check data on each profile. I’m  typically flying for 3-4 hours depending on the task. Once I’ve reached the destination, I’ll then fly back to my home base or onto the next destination for the next job. I spend a lot of time away from home staying in hotels!


Can you tell us a bit more about your career journey - how did you get to where you are today?

I did a degree in Environmental Management and was working in this sector when I first became curious about wanting to learn to fly. The cost of a Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL) is high, so I initially got my PPL (Private Pilots Licence) and just flew for pleasure.

Once I was in a financial position to be able to borrow the money to do my CPL, I did the training full-time (which takes about 18 month) and then worked for a flying school in their operations department until I got my first flying job. I am still with the same company after 4 and a half years.

What were your favourite subjects at school?


Was there anything you liked doing at school that helped you get to this career?

No - I didn't decide I wanted to be a pilot until after I left University.

What did you want to be as a child when you 'grew up'?

I had no idea!

Can you remember your parents or teachers wanting or encouraging you to go into a specific career when you 'grew up'? 

No, my parents never tried to push me in to any job/role.

What do you think are attitudes towards and expectations of female pilots?

I think sometimes you have to work harder when you are a woman in a typically male profession. For example, making a mistake can be blamed on your gender, even if it is not meant as a serious criticism or said in jest. I think there’s still a bit of casual sexism dressed up in humour such as jokes about 'getting lost' and not being able to read a map etc. There is also an assumption that as a female pilot you will make more emotional decisions (which is obviously not true or you would fail your training!). Thankfully I’ve not experienced this among my direct colleagues though.

Are people normally surprised when they find out what you do?

Yes, I often get people saying 'Oh wow, you're a pilot!'. Around 1 in 10 pilots are female so it is very much a male-dominated environment and therefore relatively unusual for people to meet a female pilot.

What are the challenges of being a pilot?

You have to have thick skin and in my particular job it's a tough working environment with long days, extremes of temperature and long flights with no toilet on board! We do a lot of work in the Middle East and I have to cope with different attitudes to women, balancing confidence and getting on with the job whilst being culturally sensitive to the customer.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Is it very varied and the flying is a lot more fun and challenging as we are somewhere different every day and we get to fly low-level in places other people aren't normally allowed to fly. And we have no passengers on board to worry about!

What advice would you give to younger girls who are aspiring scientists, or who haven't even considered it as a career?

Don't let assumptions stop you - if you want to fly, find a way. The cost is often prohibitive but there are ways and means if it's what you really want to do - the sacrifices you will have to make will be worth it.

3 things you have to love to be a pilot are...

Variety, interesting and challenging flying and the spectacular views from the air I get to see that not many others get to see.

"Around 1 in 10 pilots are female so it's very much a male-dominated environment"

- Nicky
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