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Virgin Australia sets 50:50 gender target for pilot cadetships

written by Jordan Chong | May 4, 2018
Virgin Australia pilot cadets at Flight Training Adelaide. (Virgin Australia)
Virgin Australia pilot cadets at Flight Training Adelaide. (Virgin Australia)
Virgin Australia says it is aiming to have a equal number of male and female pilots in its pilot cadetship program as part of efforts to boost the number of female pilots in its ranks.
The airline group is planning for a 50:50 gender target as it opens applications for the 2019 intake, which will undertake its flying with Flight Training Adelaide in South Australia. There will be two ab initio courses, which is designed for those without any previous flying experience, starting in January and July 2019, Virgin Australia said on Friday.
Virgin Australia group executive for people Lucinda Gemmell said the the airline was encouraging more females to consider a career in aviation.
“Globally, just three per cent of pilots are women,” Gemmell said.
“Our previous pilot cadetships have had up to 50 per cent females so we’re confident we can reach this target this year. Aviation is an exciting industry and we can’t wait to welcome the next generation of Virgin Australia pilots when they commence their cadetship.”
Virgin Australia director of flight operations Stuart Aggs said the pilot cadets would live on campus and undertake a combination of ground school and flying modules during the 54-week course.
Upon successful completion of the course, they would graduate with a commercial pilot’s licence and a guaranteed position with Virgin Australia as first or second officers.

VIDEO: A look at the Virgin Australia pilot cadetship program from Virgin Australia’s YouTube channel.
The push to broaden the potential pool of aviators for the next generation is reflected in the Boeing 2017-2036 Pilot and Technician Outlook, published in July 2017, which showed there is a need for 637,000 new commercial airline pilots, 648,000 airline maintenance technicians and 839,000 new cabin crew members around the world over the next two decades.
Boeing's 2017-2036 outlook for pilots by region. (Boeing)
Boeing’s 2017-2036 outlook for pilots by region. (Boeing)

Rob Sharp says more promotion of the “enjoyment” of being a pilot needed

Virgin Australia group executive for airlines Rob Sharp said recently pilot recruitment has been a “significant area of focus”.
“It’s been an interesting dynamic,” Sharp told delegates at the Routes Asia 2018 conference in Brisbane in March, in response to a question.
“We’ve been talking about it for about five years that I can recollect that as the Middle Eastern carriers and the Chinese carriers grow they are looking to secure pilots and they have been doing that.
“Also, there has been a dynamic as new aircraft types come in, pilots like the new toys and they go for those jobs and then there is a cascade of training that occurs.
“So it puts a lot of pressure on training organisations because you are effectively backfilling and then bringing in new pilots. For us, we ramped up our cadet program. It has been very, very successful.”
Sharp said the industry needed to communicate to high schools and universities about the advantages and “enjoyment” of being a pilot, noting the “newer generation is not necessarily seeing 40 years as a pilot as being attractive”.
Further, this type of activity was also needed to encourage more women to pursue a career in aviation.
“Our pilot ratio is also largely male,” Sharp said.
“We’ve got a growing portion that’s female but I personally believe that some activity in terms of promoting is something we need to also do with the females so that they come through.
“In fact we think our cadet program next year will have a 50:50 balance there in terms of gender, which is great.”
Sharp said the company had “invested heavily in our in-house training capabilities”.
“So you can flex the training if the demand is needed,” Sharp said.
“And our brand is very attractive. We can get a lot of people wanting to work for us and so we are fortunate in that that challenger brand and the legacy that is Virgin does attract people.
“We will obviously be leveraging that as part of the process of promoting our wares.”

Qantas targeting increased female pilot numbers through Nancy Bird Walton initiative

In February, Qantas said it planned establish a new pilot training academy with the capacity to train up to 500 pilots a year.
To be called the Qantas Group Pilot Academy, the school would open its doors in 2019 and be initially for direct entry cadets joining the Qantas Group, including Jetstar and QantasLink. A location was yet to be announced.
The academy would initially train about 100 pilots a year, which could grow to 500 pilots a year on a fee for service basis depending on demand from other parts of the industry.

Qantas Second Officer Arika Maloney, RMIT Aviation Student Anna Garliss, Griffith Aviation Student Kate Richards, and QantasLink First Officer Nicholas Bevis in front of a Qantas Q300 turboprop. (Mark Sherborne/Qantas)
Qantas pilots and aviation students in front of a Qantas Q300 turboprop. (Mark Sherborne/Qantas)
As John Walton writes in his story “Bridging the Gap” in the May 2018 edition of Australian Aviation, Qantas is also keen, in the words of its chief executive Alan Joyce, to “up the ante with our female pilot intake”.
“Qantas Group commits to a 20 per cent intake of women in our 2018 cadet program and we will double that number over the next decade to reach gender parity, at intake, through our Nancy Bird Walton Initiative,” Joyce said at a Qantas-hosted Male Champions of Change Leaders’ Forum in Sydney in late 2017.
“This initiative will support girls and women on a merit-based path to a career as a Qantas Group pilot. We’ll target STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] in schools, flying schools and cadet programs to achieve our aspiration.
“It is going to take a concerted effort but it’s time for a moonshot vision for gender equality.”

Joyce said there were about 190 female pilots across Qantas, QantasLink and Jetstar. This represented about five per cent of all pilots at the airline group.
“We can’t dismiss this gap by saying that family commitments make a career as a pilot unsuitable for a woman,” Joyce said.
“Not when we know that our cabin crew have similar rosters and 68 per cent of our flight attendants are women.”
As Walton notes in his story, the task of attracting more women to typically male-dominated areas represented the greatest challenge facing Australia’s aviation industry as it looks to meet the demand for future years.
Further details on the Virgin Australia pilot cadetship program are available on the airline’s website. Applications close on June 3 2018.
The May 2018 edition of Australian Aviation features a number of stories on women in aviation. It is on sale at newsstands now, or available for digital download via Zinio, Issuu and the Apple app store.


  • Gary Spencer Salt


    So its not passion or skill, its gender that decides if you get into that left seat. My instructor died chasing twin time in New Guinea in the 1980’s desperate to get to that left seat , flying was a passion and that takes more than reading a check list, this is how a crews fly a plane through 25000 feet with the most basic of problems – a stall – low airspeed high rate sink = flying 101. Selection on gender just weakens the skill pool with the inevitable lowering of standards over time for all.

  • Jim


    I don’t want to board any aircraft where the pilot, male or female wasn’t chosen on ability rather than gender. Choosing any pilot on gender is not only stupid it is highly dangerous.

  • Charlie Andrew


    I am interested but how can I be admitted into the program?

  • Shoulder Shrug


    I know of more than a few good pilots who have been given a no from virgin in recent years – some left in the dark post overview, not hearing either way. Others told they don’t have enough ‘enthusiasm’ for the role. Yet here we are talking about how to convince/entice enough people to join the industry?

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