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A LOOMING shortage of pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers in Australia has Qantas racing to fill the void — with women.


Civil Aviation Safety Authority figures show the total number of licensed airline pilots in Australia has remained at 7400 in the last five years, despite predictions by aircraft manufacturers another 245,000 will be needed in the Asia-Pacific by 2035. Currently women account for fewer than five per cent of commercial airline pilots and Qantas sees a big opportunity to expand that figure during its first major recruitment drive in nine years.“Qantas believes that diversity is the key to success and inspiring more women to explore careers in aviation will open the industry up to a broader pool of talent,” said a Qantas spokeswoman. “A more diverse workforce means more diverse approaches to leadership, greater knowledge and broader skill sets, ultimately driving greater innovation in the industry.”She said a series of training seminars being held around the country aimed to provide young women with the information and inspiration needed for a career in aviation.


At the first seminar in Brisbane yesterday, Qantas 737 pilot Haidee Wong said after getting her pilot’s licence and working as a flying instructor, she was employed by the Flying Kangaroo during its last major intake in 2008. “We’re not judged by what we look like or who we are — it’s about how you fly — your competency,” said First Officer Wong. “If you begin to slip and slide and get a bit lazy, someone will pull you up on that.”


Aviation consultant Neil Hansford said there was no shortage of women interested in aviation but training opportunities for pilots left much to be desired. He said many of Australia’s pilot training schools were filled with overseas students who would return to China and India to work for local airlines. “If they train in their own countries, the licences they achieve don’t have the international recognition of an Australian licence,” said Mr Hansford. “The other issue for our students is the cost. What other profession requires someone to spend up to $150,000 on qualifying, and then go into a $40,000 a year job?”


Australian and International Pilots Association’s President Murray Butt said the cost of training was a big deterrent. “It’s not that attractive to meet the expectations of the younger generations,” said Captain Butt. “Most want to reach a reasonable income within a reasonable time frame and that can be difficult to achieve with a $100,000 debt.”  Brisbane Girls Grammar student Lily Choma said her Qantas pilot father and his friends had inspired her to seek a career in aviation. “I’m interested in the military — there are more options (for pilots),” said the year 11 student.


First Officer Wong said she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  “It’s a bit of hardship at first (because of the cost of training) but if it was free everyone would want to do it,” she said.