And while you may assume a job like an airline pilot might involve a lifetime of training, for Kate McWilliams, who became the world’s youngest female commercial airline pilot at the age of 26, this certainly wasn’t the case.
As part of a Netflights.com project to celebrate the women in aviation who defy gender stereotypes, Business Insider caught up with McWilliams to hear about how she landed her job – and what spending so much time in the cockpit is really like.
From 4 a.m. starts and stunning views to discounted travel, scroll down for a peek at the life of easyJet airline captain Kate McWilliams.
This is Kate McWilliams, the easyJet pilot who became the world’s youngest female commercial captain at 26.
Her love of aviation began when she was 8. During a holiday with her family, she visited the flight deck to see the pilots during the flight and was “fascinated by all of the buttons.” However, she noticed both the pilot were men, so “just assumed there were no female pilots, so I didn’t consider it as my career.”
That all changed when McWilliams, who grew up in Carlisle, northern England, joined the Air Cadets.
She said she joined the group, the youth wing of the Royal Air Force, when she was 13.
“It was here that I discovered my love of flying and initially I looked at joining the military as a pilot,” she said.
She told Business Insider that after she finished her A levels, she applied to university but “didn’t feel like it was the right option.” Instead, she applied to CTC Aviation — now called L3 Airline Academy — a flying school which trains aspiring commercial pilots.
Luckily, she got in, and joined CTC on her 19th birthday. “They send you off to New Zealand to do training, so I spent a year there travelling around and flying,” she said. Training involves written exams on topics like meteorology and flight planning, as well as flying lessons and tests — at the end of which she had her commercial pilots licence.
“Many people are surprised to hear that you don’t need a degree to start flight training,” she said. “The current requirements to apply for L3 Airline Academy include 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) grade C or above, to be fluent in verbal and written English, and to pass a medical examination.
“Obtaining at least two A-Levels prior to applying can open up your options for different airline specific training courses.”
However, the course certainly comes at a cost.
While McWilliams said the structure has changed since her time there, the closest module to the one she did starts at £96,800.
After getting her licence, she got a job with easyJet, which meant undergoing additional training on the type of aircraft she would be flying — the Airbus A320. “I started my airline career at the age of 21 as a First Officer under the watchful eye of a highly experienced Captain,” she said. “Training is continuous throughout a pilot’s career with simulator tests every six months.”
Now 28, McWilliams is a Captain and has been with easyJet for 7 years. She’s based out of London Gatwick Airport.
The airline travels to 100 destinations from Gatwick, so her routes vary. She normally works five days in a row, then has four days off. “Every week is different,” she told BI. “It depends on the length of the flight. I might start at 4 a.m. and finish at 2 a.m.”
“The are some very early mornings,” she added. “Setting my alarm for 3.30 a.m. is a real chore but once I get to the ‘office’ it definitely doesn’t feel like work.”
She likes her lifestyle with easyJet “because I come home at night. Because we’ve got bases all over Europe, there are people based in all of those destinations, so we don’t need to stay abroad to do the early flight.”
She also gets to see some pretty incredible places. Her favourite places to fly to are the South of France and the Croatian cost. Here’s a view of Bologna, Italy from the flight deck…
…A glimpse of the sunrise on the way to Montpellier, France…
…And her in-air perspective of the Italian alps.
Most often, she’s travelling within Europe and northern Africa, but said “sometimes we get sent places for a whole week, which is a novelty.” She flew to 70 airports in 21 different countries in 2017.
“We could fly to Tel Aviv and back in a day, it depends on the length of flight or schedule,” she said. “Every day is different.”
She gets to travel a lot for fun, too, and was even skiing in France when we spoke.
“We get reasonable [discounts on] travel,” she said, adding that “it’s not free” but she manages to use it “probably about once a month.” Here’s a holiday she took in Thailand, and she’s headed to Rome in April.
Along with reading and cooking, her days off are often spent doing something active, like cycling or hiking, which helps her with the jet lag. “Being healthy does help you to get better sleep,” she said.
She also credits “taking my vitamins and getting a lot of sleep” for being able to deal with the weird time zones changes. “It’s quite hard to get the sleep patterns right, [and] obviously we’re limited with our hours off between shifts, so I’m sleeping when I can, and trying to manage life around getting enough rest,” she said.
And she certainly needs the energy. “I’ve always got something I’m training for,” she said. Last year, she did the 100km Cotswolds Challenge trek, and this year she plans to complete the London to Surrey 100 cycling challenge.
She even takes a gym kit with her when she travels — as well as a book.
Her “girls days out” often take place in the cockpit — and she uses the hash tag #girlswhofly to promote women in aviation. While she says only 3% of airline pilots in the world are female, the number is rising, and she hopes to see it continue to increase.
“I spend a lot of time visiting schools to talk to youngsters, both male and female, about gender stereotypes and encourage them to look at career options that they may not have previously considered,” she said.
Though she’s pictured here with the ladies of easyJet, she said on some days, she’s the only female member of crew, “but it really doesn’t matter. I have never felt treated any differently to my male colleagues,” she said. “I have had the same training and passed the same assessments as every other pilot. Male or female, we are all highly trained individuals.”
Ultimately, she said the people are the best part of the job. “Every day I fly with a different first officer and different members of cabin crew, but for that day we work as one team,” she said. “All of my colleagues are passionate about their job and I am lucky to work with so many great people.”
“I don’t feel like I have a job, I just have a really fun hobby that I get paid to do.”
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