Wednesday 19 December 2018

International Women's Day: 'It was a bumpy road but I got there' - woman (25) who achieved pilot dream on her third attempt

Aoife Duff and her dad Gerry.
Aoife Duff and her dad Gerry.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

“I was one of those kids who if you were asked to write your little essay in school, I’d write ‘when I grow up I want to be a pilot’.”

“I was exposed to it from a young age. From when I was young, for as long as I can remember, I was surrounded by planes and I saw the insides of planes... we were always plane spotting. Going on family holidays, we were lucky enough that Dad could tell us the inside job.”

Aoife Duff, a first officer with Aer Lingus, has been flying with the airline for just under a year. It was her only dream growing up, to fly planes for a living, just like her father Aer Lingus Captain Gerry Duff.

“He was very good at telling us what was going on and he didn’t really dumb it down for us... We grew up as well knowing that it wasn’t the glamorous aspect that you think it is, there’s the realistic side to it as well.”

Traditionally, female pilots were a small minority in the airline industry. But Aer Lingus has double the industry standard of female pilots, and Aoife’s cadetship class of 2015/2016 comprised of six men and six women.

Though only 25 years of age, Aoife admits that the road to achieving her dream did have a few bumps along the way.

She applied to Aer Lingus three times before she was eventually accepted onto their cadetship course.

It wasn’t until she’d graduated from DCU with a degree in Science Education, and had taken five private lessons in her spare time, that she finally got that coveted acceptance letter.

Aer Lingus is offering priority boarding to all women flying to the UK and Europe, from Irish airports. Pictured: Aer Lingus Caption Kelly Dolan
Aer Lingus is offering priority boarding to all women flying to the UK and Europe, from Irish airports. Pictured: Aer Lingus Caption Kelly Dolan

“Very few get it on the first time round without hitting speed bumps along the way. The interview process took four to six months, depending on the year that I did it.”

“You have to look at it as it’s only a “this time round”, there’ll be a “next time round”, I’m going to improve myself and prove that I can do it.”

“I tried to improve every year, I tried to get some flying lessons under my belt. You don’t need to have flown before but it’s a little like going into a bus drivers’ interview and saying that you’d never driven a car before.”

“I took five lessons so I had five hours’ flying experience, and I was able to say what I’d learned, and that helped me then.”

The rigorous interview process includes psychometric testing, personality tests, and a psychological interview on what ups and downs you’ve encountered in your life - all taking place over a few months, she recalls.

She added: “You don’t need to be excellent in any one area. The skills you need to be a pilot are so varied. Things like physics and engineering do help, but I didn’t do engineering for example, and you certainly don’t need an A1 in maths.”

Today, international women’s day, Aoife says she would encourage any young girls who dream of being a pilot to pursue it as a career. Hard work will eventually lead you to your dream, she says.

“Worldwide, the numbers of female pilots are quite low, but Aer Lingus has the highest percentage of female pilots in the world.”

Aoife’s Dad is a constant support throughout her life, she says

“He’s proud as punch. He’s insufferable at times,” she joked. “It’s good, he can help me, he was a great tool to have with any problem I had, I could ask him about it.”

“[The cadetship is] the equivalent of doing a university degree in a year and a half. You’re studying seven days a week, and you don’t take a break.”

“It’s great. I’m so proud of where I’ve gotten. This is exactly where I wanted to be.”

Aer Lingus is offering priority boarding to all women flying to the UK and Europe, from Irish airports.

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