Fine arts graduate and former cabin crew member Christina Ho remembers the exact moment she decided to become a pilot, joining the ranks of the industry’s few female pilots. On a personal holiday, she used her staff privilege to secure the cockpit jumpseat and saw the pilots in action: ‘Not just the fantasy of all those buttons and the view from the window, but how hard they work, how they multitask, communicate with each other and over the radio. And I thought, this is for me.’
Training as a Cathay Pacific Cadet Pilot involves an intense 55-week residential course in Hamilton, New Zealand or Adelaide, Australia. It’s a challenging but rewarding commitment in terms of time and money: there’s a tough selection process and a lot of studying. Cathay Pacific supports cadets with course and living costs, recovering 50 per cent once they have qualified.
Christina’s advice is to make sure you’re suited to the job. Before committing to a new career, she worked at an airfield in Kansas, took ground school lessons and completed test flights in Adelaide.
Some friends doubted her chances. ‘They didn’t know that Cathay Pacific took female pilots,’ she says. It does, and it wants more. The proportion of female pilots versus males remains stubbornly low – about five per cent worldwide. ‘At Cathay Pacific we reflect that global average,’ says General Manager of Flying, Peter Clemmow. ‘But we’re aiming to increase this.’
The hope is that Christina inspires a new generation of female pilots and her success becomes the norm. ‘I don’t just want to inspire people to be a pilot, but to try the stuff they want to try,’ she says. ‘Even if I’d failed – I tried, and that’s better than saying 20 years later: “I didn’t try because people told me it would be hard.”’
For more information on the Cathay Pacific Cadet Pilot scheme click here.
This story was originally published in October 2019 and updated in March 2023.
Hero image: Karen Yung