Wellington Aero Club flying high for Women Of Aviation week

To celebrate International Women's Day on March 8. Collette Devlin talks to women matching the men in an airbourne business..

MAARTEN HOLL

International Women of Aviation Week is on March 7-13. It's a week to celebrate women in aviation, from the pioneers like Amelia Earhart and Jean Batten to our modern day heroes.

Wellington Aero Club is on track to turn around its first profit in five years as it prepares to celebrate Women in Aviation this week.

The Club operates as a business, paying rising landing fees and overhead costs for its base at Wellington International Airport.

Despite being part of a male-dominated industry, instructors, Bronwyn Scott, Rochelle Fleming and Janine Erb are passionate about flying.

Bronwyn Scott, Josie Leckie, Janine Erb and Rochelle Fleming want more women to take the the skies.
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Bronwyn Scott, Josie Leckie, Janine Erb and Rochelle Fleming want more women to take the the skies.

The pilots have clocked up about 60 years of flying between them and are among 10 females in the 125 member club.

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A careers advisor once told Scott, girls could not be pilots, but she persevered and started flying lessons at 15-years-old.

Wellington Aero Club members (from left) Josie Leckie, Janine Erb, Rochelle Fleming and Bronwyn Scott are proud their ...
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington Aero Club members (from left) Josie Leckie, Janine Erb, Rochelle Fleming and Bronwyn Scott are proud their club has a strong female membership.

Now the 30-year-old event manager, is club captain, an instructor and sits on the club's governing executive board.

The club, which was set up 1929, is the only aero club in Wellington and boasts the first female pilot licence in New Zealand.

Scott was proud the club elected Amy Dreverman​ as president – the first female president in the club's eight decade history.

"I think it's rare to have this many females in such prominent positions within the club," Scott said.

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While some commercial airlines did not hire females, New Zealand had a strong female aviation community. 

According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, in 2015 there were 30,000 commercial pilots worldwide, of which 4000 were female and 450 were female captains.

Major airlines in New Zealand said they were committed to improving gender diversity.

Last year Jetstar became the first major airline in Australia and New Zealand to appoint a female to the role of Chief Pilot.

Georgina Sutton joined from Qantas, where she was fleet captain of the Boeing 767.

Sutton said the airline wanted to see more women flying Jetstar aircraft.

About 8.5 per cent of Jetstar pilots in New Zealand were female .

While it had been encouraging to see more females applying for pilot and engineering roles in recent years, she knew there was still a long way to go.

"We're working closely with schools, universities and career advisers to help encourage more females into these types of roles."

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said it had 41 female pilots.

It had established the Women's Network, which offered events, coaching and mentoring to women across all areas of its business.

The aviation sector was much wider than just pilots and it was in the middle of a major recruitment drive, looking for future flight attendants, she said.

It also aimed to have 40 per cent female membership in the senior leadership team by 2020.

Former airline pilot and current Wellington air traffic controller, Janine Erb, believed women were well represented in all aspects of New Zealand aviation but from her own experience, it was difficult to keep up flying hours, while looking after children and working shifts.

"I think it's probably a bit easier for guys."

Erb had experienced passengers refusing to get on a plane with a female pilot and others assuming she was a flight attendant.

"I can't believe in this day and age, you still strike it. But it is getting better," she said.

Scott was once told in a job interview she would not be hired because she was not a man and said it was "demoralising".

"Even though we are club, we have to operate as a business because of the commercial environment we are operating in – that's a challenge for us and other aero clubs around the country," Fleming said.

The membership-based organisation, pumps profits back into the club, with the money going towards events, such as celebrations to mark International Women of Aviation Week, from March 7-13.

The club aims to raise awareness of aviation opportunities available to females of all ages, while celebrating the accomplishments of past pioneers like Amelia Earhart and Jean Batten.

It has organised a number of special offer trial flights and events such as 'the Cyndi Lauper (girls just wanna have fun) navigation challenge' – where members take women they know flying with them on a navigation course around Wellington.

 - Stuff

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