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Malaysia Airlines Welcomes First Female Pilots

Globally, women account for approximately 5.44% of all airline commercial pilots, yet in Malaysia, there were no female pilots working for Malaysia Airlines. Now, three women will make their debut as navigators for the carrier.

Pearl Wendy Mak, Wang Wen Chien and Nur Waie Hidayah Mohamad Rasidin are the new recruits, yet they each bring their own experience to the airline. Captain Mak, 50, has been a pilot for 25 years, working for several foreign airlines before returning to her home country to break the gender barrier.

Mak, who initially sought to be an aircraft engineer, finally decided to try her hand at flying. "So long as you do your part, work as a team, and forget that you will be treated differently, you will not be seen as a man or woman but just a pilot,โ€ Mak, whose twin sister is also a pilot, says.

Mak believes that by being disciplined, studying hard and perfecting their skills women can be successful as pilots. โ€œAt the end of it, you may eventually become a commander or be upgraded to a bigger aircraft.โ€

Second Officer Wang decided to become a pilot after her father signed her up for a Fly for Fun one-day pilot course in Subang when she was 15. โ€œI was fascinated when the aircraft took off with the pilot seated next to me, he actually taught me to do some maneuvers in the sky and I found it really cool,โ€ she says.

Wang was eventually certified as a pilot in Sydney, Australia. She then returned home to complete her conversion course at the Malaysian Flying Academy in 2016. Last year, she joined Malaysia Airlines as a cadet pilot. โ€œDo what you like, it may not be easy at the beginning but never give up halfway through because you never know what the end result will be,โ€ says Wang, who is now working on becoming a captain.

Meanwhile, Nur Waie Hidayah, 21, also a cadet pilot who started at Malaysia Airlines last December, decided to follow in her pilot fatherโ€™s footsteps. โ€œI grew up in Abu Dhabi, where my father is based. After graduating from high school in 2013, I returned to Malaysia and went to a flying school in Melaka,โ€ she says. โ€œMy 18 months training there was tough, and it took a lot of support from my loved ones and a lot of studying, willpower and strict discipline to complete the course.โ€

Mak, Wang and Hidayah were acknowledged at the MAS Crew graduation ceremony on Aug 11 where 111 cabin crew and pilots graduated. During his speech at the event, Malaysia Airlines Group CEO Capt Izham Ismail said, โ€œI'm very proud that for the first time Malaysia Airlines has three amazing, strong and resilient women graduating as pilots today. It is my hope that the future of Malaysia Airlines includes many more female captains flying our aircraft and making the country proud.โ€ The airline recently launched its first female pilot program, which is currently open for enrolment.

Capt Izham says that Malaysia Airlines has a shortage of pilots for its narrow-body B737-800 fleet.

โ€œIn order to normalize the airline's operations by next year, we need an additional 150 pilots. Filling up the vacancies in the cockpit presents another challenge as the airline sets the bar for a qualifying captain at 4,500 flying hours 1,000 more than the industry's average,โ€ he said.

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Though airlines are still far from being an equal opportunity sector, the number of female pilots has been slowly growing across the world for the last few decades. Air France, for example, has seen their share of women pilots grow from 0.1 percent in 1980 to 2.1 percent in 1996 and 7.2 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, in the US, the Federal Aviation Administration reports that 4.36 percent of all pilots are women. As for major airlines with the most female pilots, United is first, with women accounting for 7.4 percent of its pilots, followed by Lufthansa with 7.0 percent, and British Airways with 5.9 percent.

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