Encouraging young women to fly, through new aviation initiative

Slowly but surely, women are getting into the field of aviation which has long been dominated by men, says cadet pilot Ortega. Photo: The WiAA Project

Founded by a team of women with a passion for aviation, The Women in Aviation Asia Project (WiAA) is a platform aiming to inspire and encourage young women to be a part of the industry.

Women have played an essential role in the growth and development of the aviation industry, which has grown significantly in the last few decades.

WiAA provides a channel for the women who have made a mark in aviation to share their experience and expertise, as well as offers resources and tools for young women keen on pursuing educational opportunities and careers in aviation and aerospace.

This platform, through aviation campaigns – information, interviews, articles, activities, events and mentorship – hopes to to change the mindset of society about gender-tagged roles and guide women and girls to be part of the industry.

(Third and fourth from left) Air Asia pilot Norashikin Onn and WiAA founder Katy Chahal at The WiAA Project launch. Photo: The WiAA Project(Third and fourth from left) Air Asia pilot Norashikin Onn and WiAA founder Katy Chahal at The WiAA Project launch. Photo: The WiAA Project

“We want women to be inspired, confident and empowered to pursue careers in aviation, which has often been seen as a male-dominated industry, ” says WiAA founder Katy Chahal.

“To do this, it’s important create an online presence dedicated towards promoting the aviation industry.

"Currently, our goal is to grow and connect with readers who share an interest in aviation and to provide aviation content that is valuable and meaningful, ” says Chahal.

Some plans in the pipeline are a roundtable discussion and panel forum in October; launch of the WiAA Xplorer which provides learning experiences such as visits to aviation facilities for youth interested in the field and an Aviation Career Week-cum-Jobfair in November as well as a golf tournament and video flashback of 2020 in aviation in December.

WiAA founder Katy Chahal (right). Photo: The WiAA ProjectWiAA founder Katy Chahal (right). Photo: The WiAA Project

Learning to fly

Cadet pilot at Alpha Aviation Group in the Philippines Raphaelle Veronica Ortega shares her experience on the platform.

“On average, for every 20 students, there would usually be one to two female students, sometimes even none, but in my batch, there were actually six, the largest number at that point of time. So the interest in aviation is growing, especially among young women, ” reveals Ortega.

Like other industries, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the aviation industry, but Ortega remains optimistic about its resilience and lasting power.

“As a trainee, I was initially clouded with doubt because of the uncertain times... however, slowly but surely, operations are starting again, planes are back in the sky, contingency plans have been put in place, and the industry is adapting to the changes that the pandemic has brought to the world, ” says Ortega.

Her advice to young women considering a career in aviation is to: “not be intimidated”.

“Aviation has been a male-dominated industry for some time, but slowly but surely, women are getting into the field.

“Always remember, gender will never be the basis nor the requirement for being a good pilot. What will be are discipline, skills, knowledge, and most importantly, attitude, ” she says.

Ortega feel that WiAA is a step in the right direction.

“It’s high time that women are given a platform. The initiative will not only give a place for women all over the world, but it will also serve as an inspiration for young aspiring women who want to be a part of this exciting ever-evolving industry, ” she says.

Juggling motherhood and career

According to Chahal, women who juggle motherhood and a career successfully are usually more effective than males, and they are usually better at multitasking.

A good example is Pos Aviation Malaysia’s Regional Hub Development Division senior executive Hasnor Hashim, who is a mother of one with another on the way.

While she is based in Sepang, Selangor, her husband Muhammad Irfan has been working as an airport manager in Sabah for the past year, so she has to juggle a lot on her own.

Although she initially wanted to go into engineering, following in her father and brother’s footsteps, she eventually took up aviation management instead.

“What’s great about my job is it enables me to critically think and come up with solutions for the company. My workplace really empowers the younger generation and they are willing to send them for training, ” says Hasnor.

Hasnor successfully juggles motherhood and a career in aviation. Photo: The WiAA ProjectHasnor successfully juggles motherhood and a career in aviation. Photo: The WiAA Project

Being the only woman in her team is not always easy though.

“There are four persons in my team and I’m the only woman – that is my biggest challenge, not having someone I can share my thoughts or relate to as a woman.

“I remember having this meeting at the office once, and there was this group of guys and they jokingly asked me to make the drinks for them as I was the only woman there.

“But since the cafeteria is downstairs, I retorted by asking them to buy their own drinks because we’re here for a meeting and that’s what we’re going to do, ” she says.

“I admit I do feel intimidated especially when such things happen, but all in all, I have a really great team who are appreciative of how I do my work and supportive of me as a teammate, and they don’t make me feel any less just because I’m a woman, ” she adds.

Her advice to young women planning to join the industry is to “just tell them what you think – don’t be timid just because you’re a woman – so that you’ll earn their respect as a colleague”.

She feels that WiAA is “a great initiative for women in aviation and it empowers women to share knowledge and opinions”.

“It’s a first, something that we didn’t have previously. It’s great for future generations, for those who are interested in the aviation industry, ” she says.

At the helm

There aren’t many women pilots around. In 2019, there were only approximately 5% of women pilots in the world. So, it’s always exciting to see one at the helm of the cockpit or at an airport.

WiAA showcases one particularly inspiring woman pilot: Norashikin Onn started flying 30 years ago and it was a first of many firsts.

She was the first woman to fly a commercial airline, the first woman to receive an airline transport pilot’s licence, and the first woman captain on a wide body aircraft in Malaysia.

Norashikin is the first woman to pilot a commercial airline. Photo: The WiAA ProjectNorashikin is the first woman to pilot a commercial airline. Photo: The WiAA Project

“Since young, I always wanted to fly. I love all things about the sky and space. I’ve always wondered how the metal birds fly and what the world looks like from up there, ” Norashikin recalls.

“I’ve also heard and read about Amelia Earhart – the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic – and in a way, she inspired me to become who I am today, ” she says.

According to Norashikin, a pilot’s responsibilities during flight are never little nor easy.

“We’ve to navigate the flight, observe and direct activities of the crew, check instruments constantly, keep an eye on the sky ahead, be actively listen and keep in contact with the ATC (air traffic control), be aware of where we are, and most importantly, be always ready to make decisions that will result in a safe outcome, ” says Norashikin.

“When I walk into the flight deck (cockpit of a large aircraft), I feel a high sense of responsibility. I always ensure that I’m calm, composed and in a clear mental state before performing my duties, ” she adds.

Even what one eats or drinks before a flight has to be taken into consideration.

“Depending on whether it’s a long or short haul flight, we’re served meals or snacks. I usually request for salads or fruit. Before a flight, I will avoid food that is oily or spicy, or anything that may possibly upset my stomach, ” she says.

Despite the aviation sector being impacted by the pandemic, Norashikin remains optimistic about the future.

“The pandemic affects every industry in the world, not just aviation. But I believe the market will grow again, and there will always be a need for pilots, although nobody can predict whether it will take another six months, one year or two years, ” says Norashikin.

“I’m excited about the (WiAA) project. I think this will open up a whole new world for aspiring young ladies, not only in flying aircraft but also in things like being ramp agents, flight attendants, sky chefs, aircraft engineers, air rescue crew or even fighter jet pilots. WiAA not only empowers women but provides knowledge and ideas about the aviation industry, ” she concludes.

For more info, visit: thewiaaproject.com

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