When going on holiday or traveling for work when using air travel, very few people (myself included) think about who is at the cockpit. We usually think about our seats, what we’ll eat and [sometimes, if not most times] we just sleep throughout the journey.
This however changed the moment I met Captain Pauline Bichanga, a Captain at Jambojet. The way she carried herself as Jambojet acquired their new Havilland Dash 8- Q400 was almost enthralling, and I immediately felt a sense of pride seeing how she took us through the new bird – here’s the conversation about how she got here, as a woman in such a male dominated industry and as a believer in the fact that women should not be looked at differently no matter the career they decide to pursue:
Kindly start by telling us your name, your background and what sparked the interest in joining the aviation industry?
My name is Pauline Bichanga, a 30yr old Captain at JamboJet on their flagship airplane the Q400. I am a wife, mother and at times I am fond of referring to myself as the ‘the happy feminist’. I have over 6,500 hours and an alumni of Progress Flight Academy, South Africa.
My interest in flying was sparked by a family member in the industry and the interest seemlessly grew into a passion that led me to pursue flying from a young age. Furthermore I had the opportunity of flying in General Aviation, that consequently equipped me to be an airline pilot.
How long did it take you to become a Captain?
Give or take, six years.
What were the gender demographics in your university/class? Were there enough ladies in your field?
Aviation tends to interest more men than women but the numbers are growing. In the past we were not enough women but this has changed over time.
Aviation is a male-dominated industry, yet more and more women are choosing it as their career. What are some of the misconceptions about women in aviation? Have you ever got into a weird situation because of your gender especially with the passengers who find out that it was a female pilot who flew their plane?
The narrative over the last few years has changed in regard to the male dominance in the industry. More and more ladies are being encouraged to take up the career from a young age. On one hand, the assumption that women are not mechanically inclined and the awkward stares from passengers and inquisitions on my age are always on the periphery of the weird situations I face. But on the other hand, you get passengers that are proud and get excited to know that they are flying with a female captain.
Do you feel like you’ve been given the space and opportunities to grow?
We are all treated the same in the industry and your growth is determined by your hard work, competence and professionalism. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far!
Do you feel a great deal of responsibility as a female pilot to break the ‘glass ceiling’?
Yes I do. Aviation is a male dominant industry and share the opinion it takes alot of work for women to match their male counterparts. However, as I mentioned before, this gap is slowly closing up.
If gender isn’t a particular problem, what is the greatest challenge for you?
Having a work and life balance, especially wearing many hats (a wife, mother, friend…)
What do you love about your job?
The opportunity to defy gravity, interacting with different people and diverse cultures.
What’s the least favorite thing about your job?
First, the early chilly morning flights. Finding balance, like any other working lady, in my personal life as a wife, mother and friend to the people outside of my career. Finally finding pockets of time for myself.
How do you think this industry will change in the next couple of years?
As per the statistics demand for air travel will increase substantially in the next few years. We’ve already witnessed that happening though. With Jambojet pioneering low cost travel, enabling everyone to have the opportunity to fly. We’ve flown over 3 millon passengers and counting! With the expansion of the industry, there will always be a need for more pilots.