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Izabela Lechowicz

"Now and then I meet other female pilots at airports all around the world, but it is still a rare sight. According to studies, only three to seven percent of pilots are female."
 

 


I first came to the United Kingdom in 1997, just after finishing a degree programme in Food Technology in Wrocław, for a language course. I liked it and decided to start working here.

Shortly after I also met my partner, who back then worked as an airline and helicopter pilot. He took me out for a few flights, and that is how it all started. I knew this is something I want to do from the moment I touched the controls for the first time.

Growing up in Poland I never had anything to do with aviation at all. I always somehow linked it with military service, and that was never part of my aspirations. Perhaps this is why I was at first slightly anxious about signing up for proper pilot training, but I often take on a challenge before thinking how to go about it. It has worked well for me so far.

In 2003 I finally got my act together, borrowed some money, and started training in a flight centre in Stapleford. Provided there is favourable weather, this first step takes about half-a-year, after which you get a private pilot’s licence. That is just the start. After this you obviously need to fly hours and face even more exams. The real fun begins when you get the qualification to be a commercial pilot.

Although in those days it was complicated to get a job with an airline, private jets were just becoming more and more popular. I started with smaller, six-to-eight seaters and then moved on to bigger jet aircraft, like the Gulfstream.

One of the things I enjoy the most is the absolute unpredictability of piloting charter flights. I have no idea what I will be doing tomorrow because the telephone might ring at any minute and I will be flying to Switzerland, Russia, the Middle East or Seychelles. For this reason, I rarely make any plans for the weekend because everything might change at the very last minute.

Of course, I could work for an airline and have a so-called roster which specifies the dates and times when you fly, but frankly, I guess that would be way more boring.

Through my work, I got to see a lot places around the world. One of my favourite jobs involved me flying from Hong Kong through New Zealand, Tahiti, Bora Bora to Australia. Not everyone is that lucky to be doing this during working hours, right?

Now and then I meet some other female pilots at airports all around the world, but it is still a rare sight. According to studies, only three to seven percent of pilots on the market are women. For the past few years, I have worked as an instructor and examined many pilots in flight simulators. No one ever expressed it openly, but sometimes I noticed a surprise when they first saw a woman in the examiner’s seat.

In Europe or the United States, a pilot's gender is of little or no importance, and the majority of passengers react positively when they see me. I do not recall any significant problems in the Middle East either.

But it happens from time to time, for example in Russia, that when I try to give refuelling instructions, the agent who takes care of us at the airport ignores me and goes away in search of a male pilot. Similarly, our drivers easily mistake me for another stewardess, despite the uniform and a clear indication of my rank, and ask me where the pilot is.

Once I worked for a client who had a somewhat unusual sense of humour and when I introduced myself, said I would be the pilot during our flight and that I was from Poland, he joked: “Oh, that’s a nice change after all the Polish plumbers.” I only smiled at him wryly.

I think people rarely remember the role that the Polish Armed Forces played in this country, especially during the Battle of Britain. Fortunately, there are exceptions. Lately, I met one of the older instructors who greeted me with “dzień dobry” as soon as he heard I was from Poland and told me - with true admiration - about his teacher, a Polish pilot who decided to stay in Britain after the war.

Sometimes I remind people about the 303 Squadron and how Poles defended the sky over Britain. This is something we all should remember about.

 

 

Words: Jakub Krupa

Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

 

© 2012 Ministry of Foreign Affairs