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Video - Women airline pilots' viewpoints

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On April 24th., at E.N.A.C., the French National School of Civil Aviation, a couple of unusual ladies went to meet high school students, and in particular high school students of the fairer sex, to talk especially about the vocational aspect of their profession.

The profession that they exercise, is not very widespread amongst the female sex - they are both airline pilot captains. Patricia Haffner of an A-380, and Beatrice Vialle of a Boeing 747; Beatrice was even a Concorde co-pilot. Since the beginning of their careers in the late '70s until now, the looks from a number of passengers, and their male colleagues attitudes towards them, have changed significantly.

Patricia HAFFNER, Captain A380 - Air France:

"Male pilots were surprised to see us in the cockpit. It was unusual for them. They DID watch us out of the corner of their eye while we're working, but not for very long, after an hour or so's flight they saw that we did the job just as well as them, and that's how we gained their trust. At first, I would say that on one out of two flights I had comments of astonishment from passengers such as "Oh, you're a pilot ! ", but much less so now."

Béatrice VIALLE, Captain B747 - Air France:

"If I achieved my Concorde qualification, it's because I was capable, and so I've never had the slightest doubt that the captains with whom I have flown had any intention of saying ''Now they've given us a woman just to pretty up the place". Not at all ! Although, perhaps at the beginning when we joined Air France - and I was the 10th. - it's true that we were then very few, and therefore always a little in the line of sight of everyone. We were a little on the spot permanently. Gradually, with the fact now that there are more women who have entered this profession, finally, we are totally accepted; we are no more ''the exceptions to the rule'' !"

Despite all that, the proportion of women airline pilots in the world remains low. Even though U.S. and European airlines like Air France, Lufthansa or British Airways can consider they are doing well with 7% of the pilots in their cockpits being women, the global average is rather less at around 3%. The situation is that many carriers have NONE in their ranks, and that female students, often, rarely consider venturing into this highly technical sector. Being a female airline pilot can also sometimes cause amusing reactions.

Patricia HAFFNER, Captain A380 - Air France:

"We still sometimes get the odd, but typical, amusing comment such as: " Oh, you fly this big 'plane, but you are very small !" My response is : ''Yes, 550 tonnes is heavy, but with or without big biceps, obviously there are servo-systems to help us lift the aircraft off the ground."

Béatrice VIALLE, Captain B747 - Air France:

"I remember that before joining Air France I started my career with Air Littoral, where we were only two pilots. There were 18 passengers on board and one of our duties was to distribute the snacks, after which we returned to our seats, and once, a passenger told me, 'Hang on, there're no more seats, take my place, I don't mind sitting next to the pilot.' I replied, 'No, no, that place is reserved for me !' So, even though I was wearing a pilot's uniform he took me for a hostess."

Things are moving slowly, but surely. In 1973 for example, to apply to the E.N.A.C. as a trainee pilot, two conditions were necessary : to be of French nationality, and be a man. ! Since then, Patricia Haffner has clearly paved the way, and many others have followed, but advocating quotas in the subject is out of the question; becoming an airline pilot should be, above all, a personal choice; and why not, a passion ?

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