Singapore Airlines (SIA) has, for the first time, hired women to fly its planes. Two of them joined last August during the last intake of cadet pilots. Their training - in Singapore and Australia - will take between two and three years, after which they will be rostered for commercial flights.
SIA spokesman Nicholas Ionides confirmed the hiring but said no target has been set for the number of women pilots to be hired. The airline has about 2,000 pilots.
"We will recruit whoever is the most qualified," he said.
SIA is the last Singapore passenger carrier - and quite possibly major global airline - to hire women pilots. The group's regional arm SilkAir and long-haul budget unit Scoot already have women flying their planes.
Low-cost carriers Jetstar Asia and Tigerair also have women at the cockpit controls.
Among Singapore carriers, women pilots make up less than 1 per cent of the total pilot population, with SIA currently at 0.1 per cent. This is lower than the global figure of about 5 per cent of pilots, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.
SIA did not provide any details of the two women cadets, nor say why it is hiring women only now.
A pilot who did not wish to be identified, said: "SIA trains cadets from scratch at a cost of more than $200,000 for each trainee. It's a significant investment so you want to ensure that the pilots you train are always operationally ready. This is not possible when women are pregnant and have to be grounded, usually for a year or more."
The decision to now hire women is a good move, said Captain Ng Thim Fook, president of the Air Line Pilots Association - Singapore . He added: "Times have changed. With flexible rostering and other tools in place, pilots can now have better work-life balance."
Female pilots The Straits Times spoke to said that while the industry is still dominated by the men, mindsets have changed.
First Officer Amandine Marie Aignan, 37, who has a two-year-old daughter and is now pregnant with her second child, said her employer, Jetstar Asia, has been very supportive.
The airline allowed her to do ground duties when she was pregnant with her first child, said the French national who has been flying with Jetstar Asia for four years. She resumed flying after that. Grounded again now, she will take to the skies again after her maternity leave.
But there are challenges, said her colleague, Captain Priya Doobaree, 37. "In my 16 years of flying I've found that as long as you are capable and meet all the criteria, you will gain the same respect as your other colleagues," she said.
"But it is also true that as a woman, you are expected to perform the same or even better than the men."
While women pilots are more accepted these days, there are not that many, added the 37-year-old, who is single. "Once, when I did a flight announcement, someone put it on Twitter."