At age 26, British woman Kate McWilliams is one of the world’s youngest commercial captain, working for UK-based airline Easyjet. She works out of London’s Gatwick airport, flying to roughly 100 destinations around the world. It’s not just her age that is the impressive part of this story, it is also her gender.
Women only make up 5% of commercial airline pilots globally, so it is well and truly still a male-dominated industry. The Gender Gap Grader, a website which publishes gender gap levels for a number of industries, also points out that there are still misconceptions about women flying planes. For instance, in India in 2011, a domestic flight was held up for a few hours when a male passenger refused to be flown on a plane with a female captain. No joke.
So when we see Kate McWilliams representing the very slowly changing face of the aviation industry, it gives hope to many other young women that they too belong in this job. It also helps that Easyjet is an airline committed to increased the number of female pilots in their company to 12%. This is the benefit of having gender quotas.
Kate knows that she is in a position to be a role model to other women, and has had her career story shared by major media outlets in the UK.
“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,” she said.
It all began at the age of 13 for Kate, when she began flying in the air cadets. Her first solo flight was at age 16, and by 19 she was doing a CTC aviation training course. Two years after that she was working as a First Officer for Easyjet, the position also commonly referred to as “co-pilot”.
At the age of 26, being promoted to captain is a big deal as it is normally a title reserved for people much older than her. This achievement is impressive, yet Kate still receives the odd comment from passengers who are surprised about how young she is.
“Personally I don’t think my age matters. I’ve been through the same training and passed the same command course as every other captain so I’ve proven myself capable regardless of my age. I do now get asked how old I am on an almost daily basis which didn’t used to happen when I was a first officer,” she told the UK media.
Thankfully they are not all negative comments.
“Usually that question comes from the cabin crew but sometimes passengers ask too. When I tell them I’m 26, most people are pleasantly surprised and impressed with my achievement at such a young age,” she said.
Breaking such a barrier means other young women who come in her wake will have a role model to look up to, something she didn’t necessarily have.
“I didn’t imagine a career in commercial aviation as I didn’t know any commercial pilots who I could ask for advice. I never even thought it could be an option available to me,” she said, reported by CNN.
Representatives from the airline industry are thrilled with Kate’s achievements and are hoping it will serve to encourage more women to follow in her footsteps.
“Both the BWPA and Easyjet are aware of the importance of visible role models for girls and young women when making career choices and continue to work together to encourage young women to consider a pilot career. Kate’s achievement clearly demonstrates to other young women that it is possible to succeed as a pilot in commercial aviation,” said Julie Westhorp, chairwoman of the British Women Pilots’ Association (BWPA).
Kate often flies Airbus A319 and A320 planes to places such as Reykjavik, Tel Aviv and Marrakesh. Although she is clearly one of the youngest, there are a few other women who are breaking barriers alongside her.
BBC Newsbeat reports 24 year-olds Dawn Hunter and Sarah Hendry are both captains at Scottish airline Loganair. Together with Kate, they join a list of women around the world who are blazing new trails in the aviation world, both commercially as well as in the private and military sectors.
Here’s hoping the 5% number will soon increase the more women we see taking to the skies.