Aspeq news

Things are looking up for women in aviation

Mar 8, 2024

This International Women’s Day, Aspeq is putting the spotlight on Flight Instructor Julie Vaughan. She’s been seeing a heartening trend in aviation, with more women interested in flying than ever before. Julie credits trailblazing females and industry support for the uplifting trend while acknowledging that there’s more to be done to balance the scales.

When it comes to gender equity in aviation, Aspeq flight instructor and examiner Julie Vaughan thinks things are looking up.

While women are still underrepresented in the industry, Julie says it’s a different ball game to when she learnt to fly 20-odd years ago - a skill she only picked up because her husband at the time was studying to be a pilot.

“It was fun to learn to fly as a hobby, but I didn’t even think about it as a career option,” says Julie. Back then, there weren’t many women in aviation whom Julie could look up to as an example.

Even though it was only a hobby, Julie’s natural love for learning led her to take increasingly advanced flight exams, and it was only when she got her flight instructor certification that she considered aviation as a career. Her first jobs included working as a coast guard and dropping parachute jumpers.

She came back down to earth to raise four kids, before restarting her career as a flight instructor with the Canterbury Aero Club, alongside taking more advanced certifications until she was qualified to examine people who wanted to be instructors themselves.

Julie joined Aspeq in 2019 as a Flight Examiner. Her favourite part of the job is seeing young people progress through their careers.

“My job involves flying around the country to do assessments, and it’s not uncommon that I recognise the pilot on my AirNZ flight as one of my old students.”

More and more often, these pilots are women. In fact, Julie says that women make up almost half of the flight instructors she examines at some aeroclubs and flight schools around the country.

“I think aviation has done a big turn around in terms of how it’s perceived.”

She says most of the credit goes to female trailblazers. “Girls can see women having successful careers in aviation, which makes it seem like a possible - and even normal -  career path.” 

It helps that it’s an industry where women celebrate each other through associations and networking events, adds Julie. “Women have done a lot to promote our place in the industry.”

Of course, industry itself has a role to play in achieving gender equity, and Julie’s experience with Aspeq has made her optimistic that things are on the right track.

“I am one of two permanent flight examiners, the second one is a male, and Aspeq supports us to take part in initiatives which promote more women in the industry.”

Aspeq partners with the New Zealand Association of Women in Aviation to sponsor an annual Women in Aviation scholarship. The scholarship supports women to train for their private and commercial pilot licenses.

It’s the type of scholarship that Julie says would have made a huge difference for her as a young woman starting out in the field, when she was working multiple jobs to support her family and fuel her love of flying.

Internally, Aspeq is committed to delivering on its Diversity & Inclusion policy which ensures equal opportunities for all genders.

Aspeq’s CEO Hamish Findlay says that promoting women in all aspects of aviation is a focus for the company.

“When women are underrepresented in a key industry like aviation, everyone loses. Aviation is an exciting and rewarding career, and ensuring that we have a steady stream of skilled pilots coming through the pipeline is critical for us as an island nation.”

Both Julie and Hamish acknowledge there is more work to be done to balance the scales. In the meantime, at least for Julie, the stereotype of pilots as young, rugged males is a thing of the past.

“Nowadays, when I think of a pilot, I think of a woman,” she says.

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