Call to make sky the limit for women in aviation

Three air cadets in an Airbus 320 simulator at Ards Airport. Working the controls is Megan Dempster, with Megan Simpson and Madi McCullough (right)
Three air cadets in an Airbus 320 simulator at Ards Airport. Working the controls is Megan Dempster, with Megan Simpson and Madi McCullough (right)

The head of Ireland’s largest aircraft collection has said more needs to be done to make aviation organisations more inclusive of women.

Ray Burrows, chairman of the Ulster Aviation Society, said the example of NI’s Lilian Bland should be the “wind beneath our wings” in terms of encouraging women to fly.

Pioneering aviator Lilian Bland at the controls of the Mayfly in 1910. Pic: www.lilianbland.ie

Pioneering aviator Lilian Bland at the controls of the Mayfly in 1910. Pic: www.lilianbland.ie

The timing could not be better with today marking International Women’s Day and this week being Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.

Mr Burrows said it provided the ideal backdrop for the aviation industry and educational institutions to highlight their affirmative action plans for recruiting females.

He said the Province has a strong example to follow, in the shape of Lilian Bland, the first woman in the world to design, build and fly her own powered aeroplane – in Randalstown in 1910.

“Lilian would be right in her element this week,” said Mr Burrows.

He noted that Ms Bland’s interests – among them shooting, photography and aircraft engineering – were deemed unbecoming for women during her time. And since then Mr Burrows said it was “unfortunate” that efforts to bring women into the aviation fold have generally been very gradual or sporadic.

He said: “Lilian Bland gave us a strong, historic example to follow here. She should be the wind beneath our wings in terms of encouraging more young women into the ranks of aviation.”

Recent figures indicate that in the UK only about 6% of airline pilots are women. In the armed forces, the situation would not appear to be much better. In the Royal Air Force, for example, 14% of members are women, and only a small portion of them serve as pilots.

Mr Burrows stressed also that greater initiatives should be made to encourage girls and young women to seek out opportunities in other areas of aviation, such as aeronautical engineering and airline administration.

Earlier this week some young female air cadets from Air Training Corps 2241 Squadron at Regent House School in Newtownards experienced an Airbus 320 simulator at Ards Airport.

Madi McCullough, 15, said: “I was a bit nervous before I went in, all the controls could be pretty intimidating, but listening to Paul (Savage – the instructor) really built my confidence. It was so realistic – better than the movies.”

She said she would definitely be interested in a career aviation career, adding she always wanted to be an astronaut.