Breaking Down Barriers: The Women Training To Become Pilots

Chasing our dreams isn’t always easy, particularly when life gets in the way. But when the aviation bug bites, sometimes you just have to go for it. In the week of International Women’s Day, we caught up with two aspiring female pilots who are pursuing their ambitions despite the challenges they’ve needed to overcome.

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Despite COVID, children and funding challenges, Krystel Razon is pushing forward with her dream of becoming a pilot. Photo: Alpha Aviation

Gender imbalance remains a challenge

One of aviation’s most significant challenges has been hanging around for as long as flying has existed, and still remains unresolved. The gender imbalance in the pilot occupation is yet to be addressed, with females represented by just 5.1% of the profession.

Alpha Aviation, a flight school based in the Philippines and the UAE, is actively encouraging more women aviators. It has adopted significant structural changes to encourage cadets of all backgrounds and overcome socioeconomic and cultural barriers. Alpha is proud to have trained Ghada Al Rousi, the first female Emirati pilot to fly with Air Arabia.

Simple Flying caught up with two female cadets from the flight school to find out what life has been like as they went through their training. Here are two inspirational stories of women breaking the mold to become commercial pilots.

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Being a single mom didn’t stop her

Krystel Razon came to aviation later in life, following a childhood passion that refused to leave. From an early age, she dreamed of being a pilot, but negative reinforcement held her back from pursuing her ambition. She said,

“At the time, people were always stereotyping that flying is only for men. We rarely saw women in the cockpit. So I chose a different path, went to college and ended up in Italy where my family lives.”

She lived and worked in Italy for a decade, during which time she had two adorable children. But the urge to fly never left her, so finally, she returned to the Philippines to pursue her flying career.

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Single mom Krystel has been in flight school since July 2019. Photo: Alpha Aviation

One of the hardest barriers to overcome was the funding of her course. As a single mom with two children under ten, Krystal knew she would struggle to pay upfront for the training she needed. Thankfully, Alpha offers a scheme where she can learn now and pay later, letting her chase her dream in an affordable way.

Krystal began flight training in July 2019 and just last month passed her commercial pilot’s license check ride at age 34. It wasn’t an easy journey, however, as she needed to juggle her responsibilities as a mom with the time required to study for her qualification. She said,

“It was very difficult. I had to do some serious time management. I just avoided procrastinating and got the things done that I needed to do. I always tried to study in advance because when I get home, I can’t just do what I want because I have children to look after.”

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LEaving her kids was one of the hardest parts. Photo: Alpha Aviation

Although being away from home was difficult, Krystel used this as a motivator to do better. She commented,

“The course is difficult, but if you really want it, you will pursue it. I think the most difficult part is when I was deployed in our training stations for my flight training because I was far away from home and I didn’t get to see my children. But I used that to motivate me more to study harder and to do better. And I didn’t allow myself to get discouraged by those things.”

Krystal now has 200 flying hours on the Cessna 172. She has finished her flight training and is awaiting her instrument rating check. Once her license has been released, she will begin her type rating on the Airbus A320 with Alpha. In terms of career, she’s keeping her options open. She said,

“I would love to work here [in the Philippines] with one of the big three – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, or AirAsia. But with the challenges of the COVID pandemic, I might take a leap of faith and apply internationally with an airline like Qatar Airways or Cathay Pacific.”

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Krystel is keeping her options open when it comes to future employment. Photo: Alpha Aviation

As a female aviator who has overcome a multitude of challenges to get where she is today, Krystal regularly gets messages through her social media accounts from aspiring female pilots. I asked if she had a word of advice for aspiring women aviators out there, to which she told me,

“I would like to give more encouragement to young aviation enthusiasts because I remember when I was just a little girl, how I would always look up to the sky, watch the airplanes fly, and wish that I will be able to fly one. And you know what, now I did, clawing my way up into a field that is dominated by men.

“I didn’t let myself be dragged down by my reality today, like the lack of financial capability, being a single mom raising two kids, the pandemic, the gender gap, and many other things in pursuing and reaching my dream job.

“So I would like to encourage more women to take to the skies, to empower each other, and to inspire other young female aviation enthusiasts. We women can do just as good a job of flying an airplane as a man, and we can be part of the recovery of the aviation industry.”

Gender should never be a limit

Mahogany Ray Arao is a 23-year-old cadet who has completed a BSc in Aeronautical Engineering and gone on to work towards her private pilot’s license. She embarked on her first solo flight in January this year, and is set to begin working towards certification as a commercial pilot.

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Mahogany completed her first solo flight in January. Photo: Alpha Aviation

We asked her what her biggest worries and challenges were when starting her training as a pilot. She said,

“I had little to no knowledge about flying before I entered flight school. I am the first one in my family to enter the aviation industry.

“It’s really been a childhood dream of mine. The house I grew up in is situated where I can see airplanes passing by every day. I would always stop what I was doing to watch them take off and land. I think that’s what sparked my ambition to become a pilot.”

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Being the only girl in her cohort was a challenge, but didn’t put her off. Photo: Alpha Aviation

Having completed an academic qualification, Mahogany approached Alpha Aviation. Although Mahogany was outnumbered by men in her cohort of cadets, she doesn’t think it was a disadvantage. She said,

“When I first started, and I met my course mates, I realized I was the only girl in my group. I thought that would be a big problem, but it wasn’t at all. My classmates helped me, and now I don’t feel intimidated or discriminated against at all.”

Mahogany’s pilot training took place throughout the COVID pandemic. She shared that she does worry about getting a job at the end of it but is determined to succeed. Her dream job would be to fly for Singapore Airlines, and her favorite aircraft is the Boeing 747, the Queen of the Skies.

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She would love to fly the 747 in the future. Photo: Alpha Aviation

Mahogany shared some advice for aspiring female aviators. She said,

“Women might think that flying is too technical, that only men can do it. It’s a barrier for many girls. But we can do it! It’s all about the brain and your determination, and your passion for flying.

“Gender should never be a limit. Your dreams should be greater than your fears. If you believe in yourself and you put your mind to it, you can do it. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Feeling inspired? Let us know your thoughts about these two ambitious young cadets in the comments.