In this blog, we talked to Aer Lingus Captain, Elaine Egan, about being in an elite club of female captains, what she loves about her job and why she thinks it is such a male dominated industry.
Firstly, you’ve been a pilot for over 30 years now (10 as a co-pilot and 20 as Captain). Did you always want to be a pilot?
Yes, I became interested about the age of 13. I got a flying lesson for my 14th birthday and from that day onwards I only had one goal. From a very young age, I thought I wanted to be an air hostess. I met two pilots from Aer Lingus and told them that, and they asked why I didn’t want to be a pilot. I replied, ‘because I’m a girl!’, and they were like, ‘so…?’ So that got me thinking.
What do you love about the job?
My job affords me the opportunity to do what I love, my hobby on a professional level and get paid for it. Every day is different, and after 30 years I still get a buzz.
What’s the hardest part about the job?
The hardest part is probably the shift work, the irregular lifestyle and jet lag can play havoc with your sleep patterns – but I get to see the sun above the clouds every time I go to work, no matter what the weather’s like in Dublin, and that’s a real privilege.
If you weren’t a pilot, what profession do you think you’d be in?
To be honest, I’ve no idea. I’ve been flying commercially for 30 years. Throughout my career I’ve gained many useful skills. I would hope I could put them to good use should I lose my license!
How do you manage to balance a demanding job and family life?
I am highly organised and having great support at home is key. My husband Fergal is great, and we have a fantastic childminder who works around my roster.
Amazingly, there are only around 7,500 female airline pilots in the world, and until a few years ago, you could have fit all the female captains in the world on a 450 seater A380. How does that make you feel to be part of such an elite club?
I joined Aer Lingus in 1988, I was the 4th female employed. As aviation for women was still relatively new back then, I had the privilege of being involved in the 1st all female crew with our first female Captain Grainne Cronin. I was also the first Irish female to be licensed on a 4 engine jet. At the time you take these things in your stride, but as I get older, I’m very proud to be able to tell my children.
Why do you think it is such a male dominated industry?
Aviation is just over 100 years old. Up until the ‘70’s very few women worked outside the home. Yes there is still some gender bias but that is changing. Women have proven themselves and companies are actively employing them.
After passing your ATPL, how long did it take you to find a job, apply for it and complete the interview process?
In the late ‘80’s there was a downturn in the industry. After my exams it took me a number of months to find a job. But once employed, I was flying within 6 weeks.
What advice would you give to any young girls who are aspiring pilots?
I think the advice I’d give would apply to any young person that wants to fly. Believe in yourself, work hard and never give up.
Would you encourage your children to become pilots?
I would encourage anybody to follow their dreams. Flying tends to be a career that you’re passionate about and not easily deterred.