International Women’s Day – An Interview With A Female Pilot

It’s International Women’s Day 2020 today, and in celebration of the female aviators out there, we thought we’d catch up with a pilot from one of the most gender-balanced airlines out there – airBaltic. The Latvian airline has an impressive 50% split of women and men in its operation, many of which are in leadership positions.

International womens day female pilot
Annika Ruusmäe has worked for airBaltic since graduating. Photo: airBaltic

Becoming a pilot for airBaltic

Simple Flying caught up with Annika Ruusmäe, a pilot working for airBaltic. We were curious to find out what drew her to this career, and how easy it was as a woman to find work and support in the industry. She told us,

“For me, becoming a pilot was not a childhood dream. Instead, it came to me when I was around 14 years old. I guess I fell in love with aviation thanks to my best friend. Her mother was flying gliders, and I spent a lot of my summers in the gliding club with them.

“Seeing aircraft take-off and glide around the field seemed so fascinating and amazing to me. After some time, I had made up my decision to apply for a student pilot position in the Estonian Aviation Academy, and that’s how it all started!”

Tallinn Malaga airBaltic
airBaltic has an outstanding gender balance compared with the rest of the industry. Photo: airBaltic

We asked Annika whether it was tricky to find her first job after qualifying as a pilot, and whether there was a bias towards male candidates for the job. She said,

“I graduated at a perfect time in terms of job availability in the aviation sector. It is not very common to get a job in commercial aviation coming straight from flight school. So, I have to say that airBaltic is offering an amazing opportunity to start a career in aviation. And I definitely didn’t feel biased against during the process.”

Working with men

Despite airBaltic’s excellent gender balance across its operations, when it comes to being a pilot, there is still a firm skew towards men. That’s normal across all airlines, and is something many carriers are actively looking to balance out as they move forward. We asked Annika what it’s like working in a male-dominated environment. She told us,

“Well, I don’t feel that this is really a male-dominated environment. Most of our office and cabin crew are women. Currently, 6% of all pilots at airBaltic are women, and there are many more coming through as cadets, our future employees, in our airBaltic Pilot Academy. Even more women are applying now and airBaltic strongly supports the diversity principle and has committed to achieve full gender equality on all levels of operations. Employees genuinely feel this approach.

“If we are talking about the environment in the flight deck, then I feel like we are all just doing our jobs. I enjoy sharing my work with other aviation enthusiasts who love what they are doing, and for me, it is only working together with other pilots.”

International womens day female pilot
She says she has not felt as if she was treated any differently. Photo: airBaltic

We asked her how airBaltic is different; how it has succeeded in promoting a healthier gender balance than some of its competitors. Annika said it all comes down to the attitude of the airline,

“I have not felt biased or treated somehow differently because I’m a woman not in my flight school nor at airBaltic.”

What can we learn from this?

Despite all the best efforts of airlines and industry bodies to promote aviation to women, and to some extent simply to get more girls to embrace STEM careers, there is still a lack of interest. We asked Annika for her take on what the barriers to getting into aviation are; she told us,

“I would say that there is no reason for women to give up their dreams to build careers in aviation. Just the prejudice people tend to have is that aviation is for men only. And for some people that is often enough to leave their dreams behind. It is easy to give up and not even try because people are afraid to fail.”

International womens day female pilot
Annika flies airBaltic’s A220 aircraft. Photo: airBaltic

And the advice she’d give to other women aspiring to be pilots, engineers or to work in another capacity in aviation?

“It is so important to like what you are doing. Especially if we are talking about becoming a pilot, which is a very specific and demanding profession. I believe that everyone should be able to do what they strive for, may it be aviation, farming or fashion design. And if you succeed in that, it might be one of the greatest things in your life.”