What's It Like To Be A Female Pilot? Captain Danielle Stoney Reveals All
Flying planes is a heavily male dominated industry. According to CN Traveler, just 4-5% of pilots in North America are women – that's a far lower percentage than physicians and surgeons (38.2% female) and lawyers (35.7% female). Last year, American Airlines told the Air Line Pilots Association that out of its 13,762 pilots, just 626 were women.
What's it like to be a female pilot? Captain Danielle Stoney, a private jet pilot for Luxaviation UK, describes how she got into the business, what she most loves about the job and what the main challenges are…
What do you enjoy about flying private jets?
I love the diversity of the airfields I get to fly to. The private sector provides access to a much wider range of locations into small airfields in remote locations, as well as large international airports. As a private jet pilot, I get to see and go to some amazing places that many people won’t get to experience. I am very lucky that we sometimes get a day or two to explore these amazing places.
Some highlights include husky sleighing in Iqaluit, Baffin Island, Northern Canada, quad biking in Egilsstadir, Iceland, and visiting the mountains on the outskirts of Beirut to taste delicious local Lebanese food. Flying private jets also gives you far more of an opportunity to interact with the people on board; this is a part of the job that I truly love.
What's it like working in such a male-dominated industry?
I personally don’t see any difference between working with men or women. I think that pilots should be employed based on their skills and not their gender. I would love to see more females in aviation and I do get a sense of pride when I see another female pilot – aviation has come a long way in recent years as there are more women in the industry now than ever before.
If I could offer any advice to young women seeking a career in aviation, it would be to not underestimate the amount of work required to make it as a pilot. There are many paths to take, with plenty of challenges on the way, but with hard work, determination and dedication you will eventually get to where you want to be.?I promise you, it’s all totally worth it in the end.
Have you ever encountered any passengers who have doubted your skills as a pilot because you are a woman?
A couple have times passengers haven't at first realised that I was the captain. In general, people tend to be pretty receptive to the fact they are being flown by a woman, as it’s still relatively uncommon. I have sometimes been questioned about how long I have been flying for but when I assure them that I have been flying for almost 20 years, they relax.
Why do you think so few women become pilots?
When I was younger, becoming a pilot simply didn’t feel like an option. I didn’t know any pilots, I saw no adverts, and at school there was no mention of it. Whilst that has changed a lot today, it remains, like many others, a male-dominated industry. Through awareness-raising events and campaigns, Luxaviation UK works hard to increase the number of women involved in aviation. We celebrate Girls in Aviation Day and Women of Aviation Week, global events that acknowledge the roles women have played in aviation since its conception.
What inspired you to become a pilot?
My parents weren’t sure what to get me for my 15th birthday, so they decided to go with something a bit out of the ordinary. They chose a flying lesson and after that first flight I was completely hooked. I lined up several more lessons and, two years later, I received my private pilot’s license.
What training did you undergo?
I studied for my private pilot’s license in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, and upon receiving it shortly after my 17th birthday became the youngest pilot in Northern Ireland and the second-youngest female pilot in the UK. Then, whilst studying mechanical engineering at Edinburgh University, I joined the East of Scotland University Air Squadron of the Royal Air Force where I completed the Elementary Flying Training course which included aerobatics, formation and low-level flying. After, I went to Oxford Aviation Academy to complete my Airline Transport Pilot License before starting on my first jet – the Embraer Phenom 100.
What's the difference between flying private jets and bigger commercial airliners?
One of the biggest differences for a pilot in the corporate charter sector compared to commercial airlines is that there is no regular schedule. Often, our flying notice will be a couple of days in advance and, in some cases, only a few hours, which is called a "go now". Another big difference for pilots working in corporate aviation as opposed to scheduled airlines is that we are regularly interacting with the passengers. This might include informing them of any changes due to bad weather or a slightly longer flight time due to headwinds.
A timetable change, especially when it increases passengers’ travel time, is not often met with much delight. We do, however, try to make as many other options available to the passengers as possible. Despite timetable changes, passengers are always grateful for being kept informed, and understand that safety comes first.
What do you typically fly?
I’m currently a captain on the Embraer Phenom 300, which is a gorgeous eight-seat business jet made in Brazil. The aircraft has a range of 2,200 miles, meaning it's capable of flying nonstop from London to Moscow. I was promoted to captain in 2016 following my experience as first officer on the same aircraft.
How many flights do you do in a typical week and to what destinations?
One of the aspects I particularly love about my job is that every week is completely different. On average there are about six to ten flights a week – sometimes three in a day. In terms of destinations, we mainly fly throughout Europe, but we have also flown to Canada, Russia, Africa and the Middle East.
What does a typical day look like?
The preparation process for a flight is always the same. Luxaviation UK’s operations team look after the flight plan and liaise with us as required. Every flight plan requires particular attention to any operational factors based on the destination we’re flying to, which includes risk assessments, crew qualifications, route planning and performance.
We report for duty 90 minutes prior to scheduled departure. One crew member will go out to the aircraft to carry out internal and external checks whilst the other downloads all the paperwork, checks the weather, performance, NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) and details about any air traffic delays.
The crew then do an in-depth brief covering the departure, emergency and potential problems that may arise for that particular flight. Passengers often don’t arrive much more than a quarter of an hour before take-off, but this time is invaluable for the crew to ensure the flight is legally compliant.
The captain always tries to meet and greet the passengers before they board to ensure swift facilitation through security and customs. Any information pertinent to the flight can also be discussed with the lead passenger at this point, if required.
What are the key challenges of being a private jet pilot?
Two key requirements for being a private jet pilot are that you have to be extremely versatile and adaptable. This can be challenging because things can change at the last minute, such as departure times, destinations and adverse weather conditions. Being able to respond to these changes as quickly as possible is essential and not everybody is able to do this.
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