In celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021, Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport and the Qantas Pilot Academy opened their doors to the next generation of women in aviation, to encourage girls to get involved in the industry.
Wellcamp and Qantas hosted the event in collaboration with the Aerospace Gateway to Industry Schools Project (AGISP) and the Royal Aeronautical Society’s STEM outreach program Cool Aeronautics, and Australian Aviation was lucky enough to be invited along for the day.
The airport terminal was abuzz with young high school girls aged 11 to 15 from three Queensland-based Aerospace Gateway Schools, including Wilston State High School, St Mary’s College and Aviation High School.
The girls were provided with a jam-packed day of activities that saw them learn about all the different career opportunities that they could possibly pursue in aviation, from engineers to pilots, through to ATC or corporate roles.
The organisers also took the girls out on the apron to see a Boeing 777 up close, which included a full tour of the plane and flight deck.
Another activity included a presentation by Qantas 787 Captain Lisa Norman, who has spent the better part of four decades as a pilot, following years of uncertainty over the place of a woman in the cockpit.
“I wish I started earlier,” Captain Norman told Australian Aviation, sharing that she wished she had access to such programs as the one being run today at Wellcamp when she was a young girl.
“It’s really powerful what is being taught to these girls today.
“I always say, if you love something, and you’re passionate, then you need to follow it through, and ultimately, you’ll be good at it! There’s so many roles in aviation and they’re all as available to girls as they are to men.
“Just follow your heart.”
In her presentation to the high school students, Captain Norman told the story of how she initially felt held back from achieving her dreams of being an airline pilot, and how even her family members within the industry were reluctant from supporting her dreams.
“But interestingly, it wasn’t because they didn’t want me to be happy, they really did. They just didn’t want me to get hurt,” she said.
“It’s important to know that sometimes those closest to you are the ones that are working to protect you the most.
“But it didn’t stop me, I knew what I wanted to do. And now I’ve flown the Boeing 747, the 767, the Airbus A330, and now I’m a part of the team in charge of delivering the new 787s from Boeing’s factory in the US to Australia.”
In fact, Captain Norman was at the controls of Qantas’ very first 787 Dreamliner, which touched down in Australia on 20 October 2017.
She shared details of the intricate and intelligent systems that don the 787 Dreamliner, that allow her to land despite nightfall, rain or fog.
“We use very very sophisticated avionics, however, not one airplane I fly has an instrument that detects the sex of the pilot,” she said.
“The aircraft does not know that I’m a female, and it does not care whether or not I’m a female, male, or anything else. It does what I tell it to do, regardless.”
Captain Norman shared with the young girls of the group that it’s “only humans that make that distinction”, and encouraged them to never let their gender get in the way of achieving what they want to achieve.
“You truly can do anything that you set your mind to, and your mind is limitless,” she said.
Organisers of the event wanted to ensure that the girls in attendance truly got a sense of what they could achieve in the aviation industry first-hand, and visualise themselves in the variety of roles that are available to them.
“Currently women account for less than 5 per cent of Pilots and Aircraft Engineers globally,” said Natalie Ryan, project manager for Aerospace Gateway to Industry Schools Project.
“This event will highlight the opportunity for increased female contribution in these roles and more, as the industry continues to grow and recover from the effects of COVID-19.”
Mal Benfer, Queensland chair, Royal Aeronautical Society Australian Division, said, “Providing girls with the opportunity from a young age to experience the thrill of aviation will go a long way towards inspiring them to choose the challenge and join an industry that is currently under-represented by females.
“Our STEM outreach program, Cool Aeronautics, aims to introduce school children to the fascinating world and people of aerospace, and what better place to do this than at Wellcamp Airport, along with the Qantas Pilot Academy, AGISP and the inspiring women of aerospace that are joining us for the day and sharing their knowledge and experience.”