Chapman Freeborn sees broad career options as key to attracting women into aviation

Posted on 8 March, 2022 by Advance 

Air charter specialist Chapman Freeborn has won wide support across the aviation sector for its campaign to help raise the profile of women in the industry on International Women’s Day - and highlight the wide variety of roles available.


Catriona Taylor, Group Passenger Operations Director, Chapman Freeborn.
Courtesy Chapman Freeborn

The company, part of the Avia Solutions Group (ASG), believes the part that women already play in aviation should be celebrated and a greater focus placed on explaining career opportunities in the sector.

Its International Women’s Day Campaign earned support from major names in the sector, including Gatwick Airport, easyJet, the British Women Pilots’ Association and The Ninety-Nines Inc (the International Organization of Women Pilots since 1929).

The battle to close the gender gap amongst airline pilots has received regular publicity, which is vital when you consider that only 6% of pilots globally are women.

It has resulted a range of airlines introducing campaigns to train and employ more female pilots, actions which the industry hopes will start to redress the balance.

However, Chapman Freeborn aims to raise awareness of the sheer variety of roles available to women in aviation, many of which are not on the flight deck.

Catriona Taylor, Group Passenger Operations Director at Chapman Freeborn, said: “Aviation is an exciting, rewarding sector to work in and we need to do more as an industry to encourage women to consider it as a career.

“That should involve celebrating female role models already working in aviation, championing women for board level promotion, improving working conditions for women and doing everything possible to close the gender gap.

“The low percentage of female pilots is always used to highlight a lack of diversity in the industry. The figures are shocking, and they really must be addressed.

“But we also need to remember there are so many other careers in aviation which offer fantastic opportunities for women - and work harder to promote them.

“I am proud to work for an organisation such as Chapman Freeborn that promotes women in aviation and to work alongside so many other women.”

Women make up 45% of employees at Chapman Freeborn – which is an 8% increase on last year. The company has also recorded a 17% increase in women in leadership and managerial roles compared to 2021.

Alison Addy (right), Head of External Engagement and Policy, London Gatwick Airport, was one of the high-profile names lending support to the Chapman Freeborn campaign. She said: “It’s important that we show any women, including those just starting their career or even considering a new career, just how rewarding, varied and exciting the aviation sector is to work in.

“Large parts of the aviation industry are still male dominated, but this is starting to change.  It’s fantastic that half of London Gatwick Airport’s latest intake of engineering apprentices are female and I’m noticing more and more women in operational roles across the airport that may have traditionally been filled by men.

“We still have some way to go however, particularly in engineering, technical and IT specialist roles.  We know the organisation will only benefit from having a truly diverse workforce and we plan to achieve this through a range of recruitment, training and retention practices.”

Robin Hadfield, Director of The Ninety-Nines, said: “Women have had a strong hand in the history of aviation since the earliest day of flight but have experienced setbacks. While the overall numbers of women going into aviation careers has increased, the actual percentage is only showing miniscule increases - and only in some areas.

“Women make up less than 10% of pilots, maintenance technicians, and airline executives, for instance.

“We need to build upon the 3% women airline executives and 1% women airline captains, too, because while increasing the number of females in the flight deck is important, it is equally important to see a rise in the number of women in board seats in the aviation sector.

“But I feel the future for women in the aviation industry is very bright. There is a need for pilots in general and it's a great time for women to take representation.”

Lynne Clark (right), easyJet London Gatwick Base Captain said: “As a female pilot, I believe it is extremely important that children, especially young girls, have visible role models so we can continue challenging gendered biases around jobs and inspire the next generation to become a pilot or consider studying a STEM subject, where women are still underrepresented.

“EasyJet is working hard to tackle the gender imbalance in our industry through various initiatives including our Pilot School visits, where pilots visit schools and speak to girls and all young people to encourage them to consider a pilot career in the future.”

Here are profiles of some of the women working across the sector, to celebrate women in aviation on International Women’s Day and highlight the careers available:

Vilma Vaitiekunaite, Chief Communications Officer, Avia Solutions Group (based in Lithuania) 

Vilma (above), who grew up in Lithuania, is now Chief Communications Officer for Avia Solutions Group, a multi-service provider for global aviation and believes the industry is finally ready to address gender imbalance.

“I do believe that we are part of a historic moment where we are about to see the emergence of a breaking point for women in the industry,” she said.

“It’s overdue because I believe that aviation needs a greater input of female energy to make it a truly modern and up to date industry.

“It is an industry where the decision-makers tend to be men.

“There’s a saying that goes, ‘If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu’. It seems true of the aviation industry.  

“But the real question is why it hasn’t changed yet? We need more women at the decision-making level. We need women who support and lift other women. We need female aviators’ alliances in every company to help make women stronger, better paid, and more respected.”

Vilma is a powerful example of how women can succeed in aviation and hopes the industry can change to attract more like her.

“I would start with initiatives to empower more engagement for women, the education of male colleagues, and clear company and industry governance for gender parity/balance, diversity and inclusivity,” she said.

“I do hold some optimism for the future because pressure from the market is reaching new heights across all industries.

“The empowerment of women should be regarded and treated as an equal part of business development strategies and a landmark on the road towards greater success.”

Rita Rams, trainee pilot at L3 Harris Airline Academy

Rita is just starting out on her career as a pilot, training as a cadet on the Integrated Airline Transport Pilot Licence Course at the L3Harris Airline Academy.

But already she is recommending aviation to other women and insisting that the barriers are coming down.

The Academy, based in West Sussex close to London Gatwick Airport in the UK, has launched a number of scholarship programmes to encourage and support more women into pilot roles, including Pilot Pathway Women Aviator Scholarship with SkyWest.

Rita said: “As someone who was looking at a career in aviation, seeing the number of female pilots and role models marketed by pilot training companies provided me with the inspiration and reassurance that a career as a pilot is achievable.

“I am now in the advanced part of my training, which means that I will be a fully qualified airline pilot in 16 weeks.

“Training has been both challenging and rewarding, but gender has made no difference in developing any of the capabilities and competencies that the course requires from us. I have loved every second of it.

“I look forward to a long career as a pilot and hope to act as a role model to inspire many other women to consider it as an exciting and viable career opportunity.”

Erica Resendes, Operations Manager, Intradco Global

Erica (above) has entered the world of animal transportation with Intradco Global, a global specialist in transporting horses and other animals by air, having spent much of her previous career in ground handling. Erica is based in Toronto Canada.

It’s an example of how you never know where the aviation industry will take you!

“My very first job was in aviation, as a check-in agent at Toronto Pearson International Airport, almost 15 years ago. But I could never have predicted where it would take me,” she said.

“I have a double major in English and Anthropology and then went to teaching school, so it certainly wasn’t the plan!

“However, once I started in the aviation industry, I knew I never wanted to leave. I think it is extremely rare to find that career where you are happy even when things are difficult. I feel very fortunate to have found that. I truly believe that this industry gets in your blood. It is impossible not to have an interest in aviation once you have been part of it.”

These days, Erica’s role is to manage complex air charter, freight and project movements of live animals. She is the first point of contact for clients to discuss, design and execute an operational plan.

Intradco Global is well known in the industry for moving some of the most famous horses in the world of sport, as well as a wide range of species. It’s even transported elephants and giraffes!

“My favourite part is flight day, when you get to see all the hard work pay off and it all comes together. That and the animals, of course. Because who doesn’t like working with animals?”

Other careers within Intradco Global include flying grooms who look after horses as they fly around the world.

“It just goes to show there are a lot of different careers in the industry that the general public do not even know exist,” said Erica.

“For example, when I was working in load control, everyone that I explained my job to was surprised as they did not even know that a job like that existed.

“We need to let women know the full range of careers available and increase the numbers. My message to women is don’t be intimidated by being a minority in the aviation industry. As women we are strong, passionate and a force to be reckoned with! Being part of aviation is like being part of a community, and you will be welcomed.”

Zori Marshall, Chief Legal Officer, Chapman Freeborn Air Chartering

Zori is relatively new to the aviation industry and is an example of how opportunities exist for women who have no experience of the sector.

She said: “I had already travelled the world working in the oil and gas industry and then in renewables and clean energy before arriving here. But I wouldn’t say aviation was an industry I was always aiming for, although I went to university in Toulouse which is an aviation hub for Airbus, and I have always loved flying.

“I remember my very first flight was aged six or seven from Angola back to Bulgaria and it caught my imagination.”

Zori says she chose aviation for the next step in her career after realising that she thrives best in a multicultural and multinational environment.

“That was how I was brought up in a French school in Angola where there were 13 nationalities amongst 40 student,” she said.

“We all spoke at least three languages, normally French, Portuguese or English plus our own native tongue.”

As CLO, Zori is now responsible for the legal strategy of the Chapman Freeborn Group and its legal compliance.

“Aviation is a sector that I’d recommend to other women because it is global, multicultural and exciting,” she added.

“I know it has been seen as a male dominated sector, but I’m encouraged that the world’s awareness and willingness to tackle gender balance is under way. It’s long overdue.

“In the meantime, women also need to play their part by pushing through the barriers.

“I’d say follow your passion, however tough that may be. Trust your skill, knowledge and experience – and be a role model for others.”

Sharon Nicholson, Chairwoman of the British Women Pilots’ Association (BWPA)

Sharon (above) has been an aviation professional in the industry since 1976, starting her career as a flight school administrator and since working her way up to become chairwoman of the British Women Pilots’ Association, the BWPA.

As an ATPL and former line training captain, she now provides regulatory oversight for the UK CAA whilst continuing to enjoy instructing each week.

She is also one of the BWPA’s STEM ambassadors, actively encouraging young girls to consider flying as a career choice – a role she’s performed for more than 30 years.

Sharon said: “Many girls do not realise that being a pilot is an option for them and are appreciative of our pilots who visit schools and youth associations to talk about our careers or those working with and around us.

“I have seen a difference in the reception of women pilots recently and notice that we are being accepted far more now than in my early years.

“Members of the British Women Pilots’ Association are a special group of people who recognise the shortfall in the recognition of women in the aviation industry.

“We have made tremendous progress over the years by attracting sponsors and growing our Scholarship programme, with funds reaching over £45,000 for 2022.

“We think of our members as family and encourage everyone to apply for one of our scholarships, whatever discipline of aviation they follow.”