This week Girls Who Travel had the pleasure of having an interview with a pilot! We talked to GWT member Bianca, who is blazing new trails. Bianca just finished pilot school and will join a world in which female airplane pilots are the exception rather than the norm. Here she talks about her experiences in the cockpit, how to become a pilot and what is so special about this traveling career.
Girls Who Travel: Did you dream of becoming a pilot when you were growing up? If not, when did you decide to do this, and how did you go about it?
Bianca: I had always kept the idea of becoming a pilot in the back of my mind growing up. My dad is a captain for a major airline. I got to see the incredible career he had. Most importantly, I saw how after thirty years of doing the same job, he was still excited to go to work. I remember on career day of senior year in high school, I actually wore my dad’s uniform and dressed up as a pilot for it. When I got to college, though, I decided to become a pre-law major. For the next four years, I worked at several law firms. I joined pre-law organizations at my school, and eventually took the LSAT and got accepted to several law schools. Right before going to law school, though, I just couldn’t stop thinking about flying. I ended up going to law school for a semester to see if it would get my mind off of flying. But of course it didn’t. After that semester, I moved, began flight training, and haven’t looked back since!
Girls Who Travel: What was the most challenging part of becoming a pilot?
Bianca: The most challenging part of flight training at first was learning how to balance studying for flights and studying the knowledge material. For every license we apply for, we have to take a checkride with a Designated Pilot Examiner. The checkride consists of an oral portion, where we sit down and answer aviation-related questions that the examiner has for us, followed by a flight portion, where we fly with the examiner and perform various tasks. So not only do we need to learn how to fly. But we also need to learn a lot of the factual information behind flying. As I progressed further into my training, balancing the two became much easier. It was motivating because as I learned more about the information behind flying. It made the actual flights a lot more meaningful and fun!
Girls Who Travel: What was the prettiest thing you have seen from the air?
Bianca: A few months ago, a fellow student and I had the opportunity to fly out-of-state to build flight hours for our next license. We got to see airports all over the southeastern United States. But I think my favorite view was seeing a full rainbow—from one end to the other—from 7,000 feet in the air right off of our wing! It was amazing.
Girls Who Travel: What was the most scenic airport you ever landed at?
Bianca: I really loved flying into Concord, North Carolina, because the airport has a quarry right on the approach before landing. It was so cool to fly so low over it! I also really love flying into St. Petersburg, Florida, because some of the approaches are done over the crystal clear, turquoise ocean water.
Girls Who Travel: The number of female airline pilots is low. What are the dynamics of working in a male dominated space, and how does it affect you? How often do you get to fly with a fellow female?
Bianca: Only about 6% of pilots in the world are female. I definitely realized this very quickly when I started flying. In the beginning, I was one of only two female flight students. My experience working in a male-dominated space has actually been a really positive one. My male colleagues are extremely helpful. Everyone works really well as a team, regardless of gender. I remember when I first started training, it felt so strange to me that I would go full days without seeing another woman at school. Now I don’t even notice it! I’ve actually never flown with a fellow female to date. But I expect to soon because I have two younger sisters who are also in flight training! One of these days I hope for the three of us to rent a plane and all go flying together. Over time in my training, I’ve seen more and more women get into flying. It makes me so happy, because women really make great pilots, and this industry needs more of us!
Girls Who Travel: Have you ever had an in-flight emergency?
Bianca: During a cross-country flight from Jacksonville, FL to Concord, NC, my co-pilot and I had an alternator failure. The alternator is what charges the battery. We knew that with the alternator not working, we would have about half an hour of battery life before we lost our GPS and other electronics. Instead of panicking, we took out the emergency checklist, went through all of the items, and let Air Traffic Control know what was going on. We were able to revive the alternator by going through the checklist and made it safely to our destination.
Girls Who Travel: What would you tell a first time nervous flyer to reassure them that the plane will most likely not crash?
Bianca: I would reassure them the same way my dad reassured me in the beginning. It’s much more dangerous to drive in a car than to fly in a plane. I would tell them that plane crashes are extremely unlikely. Pilots are thoroughly trained to handle all types of different potential emergencies in the event that there is one. While flying is usually nothing to be worried about, I would reassure the flyer that it’s common to feel nervous and see if there would be anything I could do to ease their fears.
Girls Who Travel: What is one thing you wished passengers knew?
Bianca: I wish passengers knew how much hard work and training goes into becoming a pilot. Watching my dad make his job seem so easy my entire childhood, I always assumed it consisted of a few years of training followed by a relatively simple and laid-back career. But going through training has really opened my eyes to the vast amount of information pilots need to learn. Immediately upon starting training, I needed to learn about legal regulations, weather theory, aircraft systems, psychology, aerodynamics, and so much more. And then I realized that the studying doesn’t end when training ends. This is a career that requires us to constantly be learning and improving. We have recurrent training every few months. It’s an amazing career, but definitely one that will require a lot of determination and resilience.
Girls Who Travel: What would you say to young girls and women that are interested in a career as a pilot?
Bianca: I would say to absolutely go for it! I know that training can be expensive and daunting at first. But being a pilot is a phenomenal career in more ways than one, and the investment pays itself over several times. A big thing for me when choosing a career was wanting to do something that genuinely excited me every day and would never feel like a chore. For me, flying has been just that. It’s a career that will allow you to travel, see the world, and challenge yourself while doing it. I am more than happy to answer questions for anyone who is even remotely interested in flying! It’s totally worth it.
Girls Who Travel is an education and empowerment community dedicated to helping women explore beyond their boundaries. We welcome all people who identify as non-masculine/non-male to connect, educate and inspire each other with their stories, fears, knowledge, questions, and ideas. Because together we make each other strong. We hope you will join us and see the world.