Date: 21 August 2017
L3 Airline Academy Cadet Sophie has been trailblazing across television screens as a star of ITV's 'easyJet: Inside the Cockpit'. You'll see her successfully navigate solo across the New Zealand landscape with only a map, and taking control in ultimate g-force for some intense aircraft recovery training at our Academy in Bournemouth, UK.
With only 3% of pilots worldwide being women, I'm in a significant minority. It's true that when I was younger, I didn't realise that women could be pilots. At least, it never seemed like an obvious occupation: I simply hadn't had the privilege of flying with a female crew until I was older.
Becoming a Pilot remained in the back of my mind, as I had always been fascinated by the machines that flew over my house (situated under the RAF Brize Norton flight path), and the superheroes that flew them. The dream remained out of reach, so I went on to study at Queen's University Belfast and qualified with a Masters in Human Geography, toying with the idea of eventually becoming a lawyer. One of my four years of study was spent in Spain and, it was on my flight out there (with easyJet as it happens) that a woman's voice came over the PA "This is your Captain speaking…" – and my interest was instantly reignited!
I visited an L3 Airline Academy open day in Dublin and was really pleased to be able to speak to a few women in training, which further increased my confidence and gave me the push I needed to apply here to the easyJet MPL Training Program – the rest is history!
Whilst I'm the only girl on my own course, I've made great friends with a number of female cadets in different stages of their training. It's been an honour to train alongside these amazing women and they remain some of the best friends and the finest pilots that I know. The number of women in training at L3 Airline Academy is around 7% and, whilst it is above the global average (which is really encouraging to see), more should definitely apply. Taking part in this documentary was a great opportunity to be part of something more and generate visibility around the need for more women to pursue this awesome career. If just one young girl sees the show and thinks 'I can do that, I'm going to be a pilot too!', then all of my efforts will have paid off. I'm hoping that we will illustrate to women – in fact, anybody with the motivation, drive and talent, whether they're still in school, university or even considering a career change – that it's a real and exciting option.
Throughout my training, all cadets have been treated as equals and expected to perform as such. Everyone has their own personal obstacles to overcome, and everyone's training journey is different. What makes a good pilot is passion, aptitude and a whole lot of grit and dedication; male and female pilots are not segregated in ability by ill-conceived gendered traits like 'multi-tasking' – all pilots must have the capacity to multi-task, in fact you're tested on it as part of your selection!
By no means easy, commercial pilot training has certainly been challenging and a steep learning curve. I absolutely love flying – you just need look at my face while I'm upside down during episode 2 of the documentary! Moments like that make all of the hard work worthwhile. Now I'm about to begin the transition into advanced Airbus A320 simulator training, where I'll be working towards becoming qualified on the A320 aircraft before they let me near the actual plane later this year!
I'm due to start with easyJet in October 2017, where I'll have my 'Base Training' – my first ever experience behind the controls of a 70 tonne easyJet passenger jet (without the passengers) under the watchful eye of an easyJet training Captain, a safety Pilot… and all my course mates! No pressure!
I'll be starting my life as a qualified easyJet Co-Pilot, flying passengers in and out of Belfast – so I'll be returning to a city I know and love from my time at University.
If I had any advice for other women who perhaps thought they couldn't be a Pilot, my advice is really simple – believe in yourself, have confidence that you CAN do anything that you set your mind to, and apply. I'm a strong believer in challenging stereotypes that place limits on our individual abilities.