Saturday 3 December 2016

Flashback 1988: First all-female crew leaves Dublin

Published 02/08/2015 | 02:30

Photo Caption 1:
Captain Grainne Cronin, pictured with her father, retired Aer Lingus Captain Felim Cronin. This was Grainne Cronin's first day in the job as the first female Aer Lingus pilot. Felim Cronin joined Aer Lingus as a pilot in 1961, he was made Captain in 1969, and flew eight different types of aircraft with the airline until 1986.
Photo Caption 1: Captain Grainne Cronin, pictured with her father, retired Aer Lingus Captain Felim Cronin. This was Grainne Cronin's first day in the job as the first female Aer Lingus pilot. Felim Cronin joined Aer Lingus as a pilot in 1961, he was made Captain in 1969, and flew eight different types of aircraft with the airline until 1986.

On this day in 1988, a Shorts 360 commuter aircraft left Dublin at 3.15pm to make the short hop to Shannon. An unremarkable journey, it caused headlines because at the controls that day were Captain Grainne Cronin and co-pilot Elaine Egan: it was the first time an Aer Lingus plane had been flown by an all-woman crew.

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Ennis-born Grainne was already a seasoned flyer, having taken 14 months training in England before joining Aer Lingus in 1978, where she took another five months advanced training.

Her first flight as a qualified pilot was in April, 1979 when she was 23 years old. She is pictured here on that day with her father, Felim, who was himself a senior pilot with the airline and swapped shifts so he could sit alongside his daughter on the historic Boeing 737 flight.

"It wasn't easy entering such a male-dominated arena," recalled Grainne on her retirement in 2010, "but Aer Lingus were very forward-thinking for the time."

Grainne was following in a notable Irish tradition of women flyers, which began with Lady Mary Heath in the 1920s and continued with Wicklow-born Gillian Cazalet who piloted with Skyways and Dan Air in the 1960s.

By the late 1970s, Scandinavian airline SAS was the only other airline to employ women pilots when Grainne joined Aer Lingus, and it took British Airways until the mid-80s to remove the bar.

By August 1988, there were four qualified pilots in Aer Lingus who happened to be women, so an all-women flight was just a matter of time. Captain Cronin later moved to the transatlantic routes but found it hard to cope with jet lag and took early retirement in May 2010.

To mark her last flight, from Dublin to Boston, she was joined by the woman who had been her co-pilot more than 20 years before and is now one of Aer Lingus's most senior pilots, Captain Elaine Egan. The Airbus A330 crew was completed by first officer Shelly Gahan, but by then, an all-female crew was unremarkable.

Out of 475 pilots working at the airline, 43 are women, including four cadets, 17 captains and 21 co-pilots.

With 9pc, Aer Lingus is one of the better airlines at employing women pilots, although there is obviously room to improve. The industry as a whole is hugely skewed with just 3pc of commercial pilots being female, or 4,000 out of 130,000 according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.

Indicating the distance the company had travelled was the fact that Grainne Cronin was waved off on her last day by chief pilot and director of flight operations, Davina Pratt.

"Grainne led the way in aviation in Ireland and across the world," she said. "She was up there with the pioneering greats such as Amelia Earhart and she set the path for all the female pilots in Aer Lingus."

"I've had an interesting and varied career and it's sad to be finishing, but I had done 33 years and seen the best in aviation", Grainne said before steering EI137 above the clouds and across the Atlantic for the last time.

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