Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Wed October 05 2016

26-Year-Old Pilot Puts the Spotlight on Women in the Cockpit

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | October 05, 2016

26-Year-Old Pilot Puts the Spotlight on Women in the Cockpit

Photo courtesy of easyJet

As someone who has pushed back hundreds of planes away from airport gates, it always catches me off-guard to hear a woman’s voice on the radio from the flight deck — not because it’s weird, but because it’s so rare — which is a shame. Only five percent of commercial airline pilots are women, but one woman’s trips in the cockpit have earned her a trip into the record book.

26 year-old Kate McWilliams is a captain for easyJet, and is believed to be the youngest commercial airline captain on the world, female or male. Many pilots don't move to the captain ranking until their 40s, because the upgrade to captain is seniority-based. But for McWilliams, at a quickly-growing airline like easyJet, pilots move up through the ranks more quickly than at older or stagnant airlines.

She began flying at age 13, then when she was 19 years old, she enrolled in a special school just for pilot training. She joined easyJet two years later, in 2011, then upgraded to captain in just under five years.

“Since the day I started at CTC when I was 19 I have never looked back! I love being a commercial pilot for easyJet, and I am proud that I have now achieved my ambition of becoming a captain,” said McWilliams in a statement. “I would strongly urge females interested in aviation to think about pursuing a career as a pilot, and any existing pilots to push themselves to become a captain. EasyJet is a great airline to fly for and they are passionate about helping people achieve their dreams.”

READ MORE: Women of the Seas: Cruise Travel Gets in Touch with Its Feminine Side

EasyJet plans to increase their percentage of female pilots to 12 percent in the next two years. McWilliams says she gets asked almost daily by passengers how old she is when they realize she’ll be the one flying the plane. She doesn’t believe her age matters, because she has passed every bit of qualification and training required of every captain. She recently flew with a 19 year-old first officer, a male, who could eclipse McWilliams’ record if he moves up through the ranks at the same speed.

Because it’s so rare to find women making careers in aviation, organizations like Women in Aviation and The Fly With Amelia Foundation aim to promote aviation as a career field to young women. Women in Aviation provides scholarships to young women who aspire to have careers in aviation, and sponsors an annual “Girls in Aviation Day” for girls aged 8 to 17, which happened last Saturday, Sept. 24. Their membership includes all aviation fields, from flight attendant to pilot, and mechanic to astronaut.

The Fly With Amelia Foundation was founded in 2013 by Amelia Rose Earhart, a Denver traffic and weather reporter for the local NBC affiliate. Earhart flew around the world in a single-engine plane in 2014, and used the publicity created by her trip (and her famous name) to fund donations for scholarships, which are given to high school-aged girls to take flying lessons. 


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