Just 3% of women worldwide are pilots. WeAreTheCity talks to two of that 3%, both of whom work for Luxaviation UK, the UK’s largest private aviation charter operator.
Danielle Stoney is a Captain of a Phenom 300 and has been awarded the Royal Airforce Flying Excellence Award. Susan Tuddenham is a First Officer and has flown clients across 25 different countries and 117 European cities, totaling nearly 1,000 hours flight time.
How did you get into aviation?
DS: I was absolutely hooked on flying after my first lesson at 15. My parents weren’t sure what to get me for my birthday that year, so they went with a flying lesson and I’ve never looked back! I received my private pilot’s license when I was 17 and received the Student Pilot of the Year Award; then, five years later I was awarded the Royal Airforce Flying Excellence Award.
ST: I was absolutely determined to become a professional pilot after just one lesson. I completed my Private Pilot’s Licence and then built up the hours needed for the next stage of training for my Commercial Licence. Whilst training, I worked as an apprentice in a workshop re-fabricating vintage aircraft and later as an instructor on a B737-800 simulator.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
DS: Because I got wrapped up in the aviation world from such a young age, I never really spent much time planning my career – it just sort of happened! My love of flying took over, and I’ve always been of the belief that if you can find work in a field you’re passionate about, then you’re on the fast-track to a happy and fulfilling life.
ST: i researched the steps I needed to take to become a pilot, however, I had to be flexible regarding finances and flesh out some parts along the way. Whilst I had an overall plan, there was no guarantee I’d get the funds together and I couldn’t guarantee I’d get the scholarships I applied for. Resilience was definitely key!
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
DS: Understandably, the training process involved in becoming a pilot is no easy task; there are countless exams and tests and it can feel very overwhelming at times. But my advice is to absolutely stick with it – it’s a hugely rewarding industry and I still occasionally have to pinch myself!
ST: Funding the training was a big challenge as it’s expensive, although I was fortunate enough to receive several scholarships which really helped. Otherwise, it was savings and loans from family and the bank. Another challenge was the weather, which, in the UK, generally doesn’t favour flight training which requires clear skies. Many a day was sat waiting for the cloud and drizzle to clear. But you just have to meet those challenges, stick with it and carry on.
Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor or anyone who has helped your career?
DS: My family have always supported me and have been a great inspiration too. I have also had some great instructors and line trainers over the past 17 years that have allowed me to gain a wealth of experience.
ST: So many people have supported me along the way. Organisations like The Air League and Women in Aviation International have assisted me with scholarships, information, advice and friendship. I am grateful for all the support I’ve received and without it I wouldn’t be where I am today!
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
DS: It is, unfortunately, a known fact that there are considerably fewer female pilots than males. This is something that Luxaviation UK work very hard on, through awareness-raising events and campaigns. We recently celebrated Girls in Aviation Day, a global event that celebrates the roles women have played in aviation since its conception.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, but with hard work and dedication, you will eventually get to where you want to be.
ST: Women are grossly under-represented in the aviation industry – figures typically suggest that women in commercial aviation make up just 3% of the pilot population. I believe this could be partly due to girls simply being unaware that flying could be a career option for them, because they don’t tend to see many female pilots. The key is perhaps raising awareness; there were times when I was the only girl in my flying class – let’s change this!
The Aviatrix Project helps inspire and encourage women to take to the skies. In partnership with a number of aviation and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) organisations, one of the main aims of this project is to raise aspirations of young girls and to promote aviation as an exciting and accessible career choice. The project aims are to work closely with primary and secondary schools as well as higher education institutions to encourage girls into STEM industries.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
DS: When you think you know it all, stop flying. There is nothing more dangerous than an over-confident pilot.
ST: Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Go for it.
What’s been your proudest achievement?
DS: Although, my proudest moment so far would have to be flying my parents for the first time. I flew them from Ireland to England and loved every second! It gave me the chance to show to them exactly how far I had come since that first flying lesson they bought me for my 15th birthday.
ST: Going solo was one of my happiest achievements; I had a huge grin across my face for at least a week. I was also honoured to receive the last awarded Amy Johnson Flying Scholarship as she is one of my aviation heroes. Some of my proudest moments have been doing medical flights, such as organ transportation, where I’ve been part of a team that’s changed someone’s life.