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Female pilots on top at Cathay

Published on Thursday, 14 Jun 2012
A former Cathay Pacific flight attendant, Yvonne Tou is now a second officer after proving herself in a cadet pilot course in Adelaide.
Photo: Berton Chang

Women do not automatically spring to mind when one thinks of the job of a commercial airline’s pilot. But in fact, there is no reason why women should not apply to be among the 300 pilots Cathay Pacific is hiring this year.

“I used to be a flight attendant with the company,” says Yvonne Tou. “One of my stays in Melbourne gave me the chance to go on a trial flight at a local aviation school. The experience was breathtaking – the freedom of flying around was simply amazing.

“Since the company was offering cadet pilot courses to applicants with no flying experience, I decided to take up the challenge. Looking back, it is way beyond what I expected,” says Tou, now a second officer, who has been with the company for two-and-a-half years and is one of Cathay Pacific’s 76 female pilots.

Candidates with a variety of experience are welcome, so long as they have completed secondary school, have good passes in maths and science, and are technically apt.

There is no requirement for actual working or flying experience, but those who have a degree or diploma, or passes in pilot licence subjects, may have an advantage when applying. Applicants must also be compatible with Cathay Pacific’s values and culture.

“We are looking for future captains – people who will lead confidently, think logically, communicate effectively, and act calmly,” says Kelly Crawford, Cathay Pacific’s flight crew recruitment manager.

 “Our selection process assesses the applicants’ discipline, determination and motivation as well as their interpersonal, problem-solving and team-building skills. We also assess academic competencies, technical aptitude and compatibility with our strong company culture,” she says.

“We want officers who are not only outstanding individually, but who also bring out the best in everybody they fly with. Most of all, we are looking for people who are passionate about flying. Applicants must be able to show us they are enthusiastic about aviation,” Crawford says, adding that the company supports diversity, having hired pilots from 32 countries.

Recruitment for second officers occurs through three entry streams, and three different training programmes are arranged for them in Adelaide, Australia, where Cathay Pacific has its flight training centre. Those with flying experience can qualify for a 32-week advanced entry or a 14-week transition training programme. Those with no or little experience can join the cadet pilot programme, which takes 61 weeks.

After completing training in Adelaide, second officers are inducted at the airline in Hong Kong and receive a conversion course to a new wide-body aircraft. It takes another three to five months to become a fully qualified crew member.

“Second officers are integral members of our flight deck crew as cruise co-pilots, and they enhance our flight safety by actively monitoring the operating crew during approach and departure,” Crawford says.

Experience and training in the second officer role develops a sound foundation for promotion to junior first officer. After a series of training and checks, a junior first officer is promoted to first officer. Ultimately, the goal of every officer should be to become a captain. Training, however, never stops and pilots are subjected to a series of checks and assessments throughout their career.

Tou agrees that training is a constant in a pilot’s working life. “Being a pilot means you have to constantly train and improve yourself. No two flights are the same, and every flight has its own challenges. My determination and eagerness to learn have seen me through these challenges,” she says.

Cathay offers attractive pay and allowance packages plus medical insurance and pension schemes. Employees and some of their family members can also avail themselves of extensive travel discounts.

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