Captain Kate McWilliams became the world’s youngest female captain aged 26, flying for easyJet. The everywoman in Travel Awards’ Woman of the Year tells Abigail Healy about her route to success
How did you become a pilot?
I don’t come from an aviation family; my parents run an opticians practice. But when I was eight we went on a family holiday to America, and my sister and I went to the flight deck to see the pilots. Both the pilots were men about my dad’s age, so I just assumed there were no female pilots and didn’t consider it as a career. But when I was 13, I joined the Air Cadets and discovered a love of flying. I considered joining the military as a pilot, but a friend told me about CTC Aviation (now called L3 Airline Academy), which trains aspiring commercial pilots, and I decided this was a better option for me. After my first solo flight at the age of 16, I knew that a career in aviation was my dream job.
What challenges did you face along the way?
My headteacher told me I couldn’t be a pilot but that just made me more determined. Fortunately I had encouragement at home and from other teachers who supported my career choice. The training itself is challenging. There was one point early on when I almost gave up, but I spoke to one of my mentors and took a moment to gain some perspective. It’s important to be focused on your goals, but it’s equally important to take some well-earned time out and find the right balance.
How has easyJet helped to foster your career growth?
EasyJet is an extremely supportive employer with an industry-leading training department. The training I have received and the support from my peers and managers have allowed me to develop and grow. I have a number of mentors, female and male. My male role models have played a huge part in encouraging me to progress. Male agents for change are just as important in the journey to creating a more diverse workforce.
What do you love most about your job?
I like the fact that every day is different. There are so many variables – different destinations, weather, crew, passengers. I’m regularly asked what route I fly; well, easyJet has more than 900 routes, any of which we could fly. People are also surprised to hear that we fly with a different crew every day, so we get the opportunity to work with lots of different people.
What are your future aspirations?
I’ve just started a new role as a training captain, so I’m now instructing new pilots and new captains to help them develop their skills. I’m enjoying my new role, so I plan to spend 2019 giving my all to this challenge and developing my skills as a trainer.
What advice would you give other women keen to progress in aviation or travel more widely?
My advice is a quote from Amelia Earhart [the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic]: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. You can do whatever you decide to do.” Have confidence in your own ability. Surround yourself with a support network of people who encourage you and in return encourage others to achieve their own potential. There may be difficulties along the way, but the best views come after the hardest climbs.
Is it important to you to inspire the next generation?
I was fortunate growing up to have a good support network at home and school, but not everybody has this. So along with a number of other pilots, I go into schools to talk to children about career options. I also work with teachers and parents to equip them with the appropriate knowledge to support the younger generation in making the right career choices for them.
How did it feel to win the everywoman in Travel Woman of the Year award?
It was such a shock and I owe it to everybody who has supported me throughout my career so far. It was an honour to be recognised for the work I have been putting into encouraging the next generation and it has given me a renewed energy to continue the work I’m doing.