Flying a B737 at age 20

When one thinks of a stereotypical pilot one generally thinks of a middle aged man with a mustache, not a young woman. In an effort to break this stereotype and to increase the amount of female pilots I decided to interview Emilie. This talented female aviator is a cargo pilot in Europe who launched her career on the B737 at the age of 20 after graduating from flight school.

With only 5% of airline pilots being female, Emilie isn't alone in wishing for more women to join her in the flight deck. Hopefully the numbers will change in the future as more women realize how exciting and accessible a career in the flight deck is. This is Emilie's journey from a student pilot to a First Officer at an airline.

Emilie started flying the B737 in Europe at the age of 20.

1) Why did you decide to train at CAE?

They take you in with zero flight experience and you graduate with everything you need to work at any European Company. Once the full training is finished you also end up with a Bachelor diploma in Air Transport Management from a University in the UK, which is an extra advantage because you’ll have a bachelor degree on your CV.

2) How many women were in your course when you were a student pilot?

I was the only woman in my class (of approximately 20 students) during the 7 months of ATPL theory ground school in Belgium. The classes before and after me also didn’t have females, which meant I was the only Belgian girl in Arizona (America) for 7 months during the practical flying training after my ATPL exams. Luckily there were 5 other girls from CAE Oxford who joined me in Arizona and I was fortunate enough to meet a few American girls training there too. As you can gather, there were very few females training to pursue this career.

3) How did you cope with being the only female student pilot? 

I was lucky during ground school to live at home so I saw my sister every day and met with my female friends over the weekends. For the second part (flight training in Arizona) the fact that I was a girl didn’t change anything- we were all in flight school trying to become pilots and being a girl didn’t change this.

When I felt that I needed a bit more girl time in America I'd go to Zumba class or manicures at the salon. But I won’t complain about this chapter of my life, I made some good guy-friends with whom I had a lot of fun!

Emilie was one of only a few female pilot students during her practical training in Arizona.

4) Did you ever feel under pressure to prove yourself as a female pilot?

I did feel pressure. But this is because of myself, no one directly gave me this pressure. The biggest thing I was afraid of is being called bad and associating this with the fact that I’m a girl. I was scared that I would be bad at flying and that people would blame it on the fact that I’m a girl. Of course no one ever told me this. It’s just me that put this pressure on myself.

It’s funny but I still kind of have this now that I work. Since I always have layovers I always pack a small suitcase because I don’t want to be called ‘’the girl with the big suitcase’’. I don’t like stereotypes and don’t want to give people the opportunity to make them. That’s why I have my small luggage.

5) Your job includes a lot of layovers so what do you speak to your Captains about since there is such a large age gap? 

It depends from flight to flight since there’s a lot of diversity in pilots I fly with. It ranges from Captains that could be my father, to Captains that are 27 years old. The most common topic is family- they like to talk about their children and I like to talk about my siblings. Often, we also talk about aviation related topics.

6) People often wonder what pilots talk about in the flight deck. How does the conversations change when you get the chance to fly with a female Captain? 

It’s funny because I flew with a girl once and our conversations were so different. We talked about things like our nails.

7) How long did it take you to find your first job?

After graduation, CAE offered me an interview with Brussels Airlines (the Belgian flag carrier). Unfortunately I didn’t pass the selections. I failed a written personality test… This was really hard for me. Brussels airlines was my dream company and I didn’t understand how I could fail a written personality test. I didn’t even get the chance to have a one on one interview.

One week after this rejection I was invited for the fist phase of selections for my current company and the selection spread out over 2 months in total. In the background I participated to other selections but I never finished them because I got the positive answer of my current airline first. Now I've been flying for 6 months and I couldn’t be happier. This airline is the perfect fit for me so in retrospect I’m really happy I failed the first selections.

8) How do you think we can increase the amount of female pilots? 

CAE organized a contest last years to give away 5 scholarships for girls. I think this is a great opportunity and something that increases interests for girls. But to be honest I think this is unfair to the boys. Everyone should have the same chance to win a scholarship.

Something that will help more is just raising awareness that there is no problem of being a girl and being a pilot at the same time. There are several female influencer pilots on social media these days and they are doing a fantastic job of showing that being a woman doesn’t change anything about pursuing your dream.

9) What advice do you have for others wanting to become pilots?

It's very simple: if you have a dream, go pursue it! All you need is A LOT of motivation. Because the training is not simple. But luckily it’s a short period of your life and you’ll be rewarded once you start working in the amazing airline office.

The view from Emilie's office. It's her reward for persevering through flight school.

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The views presented in this article are solely the author's based on available information at the time of writing. The purpose of this blog is to inform readers, not to provide professional advice. Readers are advised to research further and consult relevant professionals, such as flight training schools. Readers are cautioned when acting on information provided and assume all risk from such actions.