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Virtual school visits initiative targets the pilots of the future

THE AVIATION industry is facing its toughest challenges to date in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. But that has not stopped budget airline easyJet launching a virtual recruitment drive for the next generation of pilots.

The airline, whose UK headquarters are at London Luton Airport, has launched a virtual pilot school visits programme as part of its Amy Johnson Initiative to encourage more girls to become an airline pilot.

Teachers, schools and parents can request a virtual visit from an easyJet pilot, who will join classrooms and assemblies via video link. The pilot will outline what the job of a pilot is really like and, with many of the airline’s female pilots fronting the programme, that it is a job for everyone.

The airline has launched its virtual school visits on International Women’s Day today (Monday), with this year’s theme #ChoosetoChallenge highlighting the importance of calling out gender bias. 

easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “Improving the gender balance in the pilot community has been a real focus for easyJet and we believe that no other airline has been doing more on this issue. We have been encouraged by our work through our Amy Johnson initiative so far which has driven tangible results in more than doubling the female pilots now flying for us.”  

Some of easyJet’s female pilots.

easyJet’s research has shown that around half of British children (51%) still believed their career choices were biased towards traditional male and female jobs, suggesting that gender stereotypes are still having an impact on children’s career aspirations and that the work to challenge this starts in schools.

The study of 2,000 British parents and children aged six to 16 was commissioned by the airline before the pandemic, as part of its Amy Johnson Initiative to encourage young people to think beyond stereotypes by championing female pilots of the future.

Currently it is a career that is overwhelmingly male with around 95% of pilots being male worldwide.

The research results showed an uptake of interest in piloting, today’s generation display a similar disparity as over five in ten (54%) boys contemplate a pilot’s role in contrast to only 27% of girls. 

Of the parents that took part, 79% agree that schools should help dispel gender stereotypes around employment at an early age. The airline has also seen that positive childhood role models and meetings with real pilots, were vital to inspiring young people to consider the career, and critical to challenging these stereotypes.

The airline’s pilot virtual school visits programme comes as schools return to the classroom and follows the launch of easyJet’s Flightsize online lessons earlier this month to help parents juggling home schooling and home working in lockdown, to keep the youngsters entertained and engaged with free educational videos fronted by the airline’s pilots.

Since 2017 easyJet pilots have visited more than 400 schools and colleges across Europe and with the launch of its virtual pilot visits, the airline will ensure the important work to highlight visible female role models in schools can continue, despite the restrictions of the pandemic. 

The first virtual visit took place today (Monday) at Bourn Primary School in Cambridge who received a visit from Captain Iris de Kan to learn more about her job. More virtual visits planned for the coming weeks.

Captain de Kan said: “It is important that girls have visible role models so we can challenge gendered biases of jobs and show that being a pilot can be for anyone with the motivation and passion to do it. 

“So, even though we cannot visit in person right now, we will continue to keep up the important work of our Amy Johnson Initiative to encourage more girls to consider a pilot career in the future so we can continue to redress the industry-wide gender imbalance in the long term.”

The airline launched its Amy Johnson Initiative in 2015, named after the pioneering British aviator, to help redress the industry’s gender imbalance in the pilot community. Alongside pilot visits to schools, youth and aeronautical organisations, the airline has also worked with pilot training partners to offer scholarships and run media awareness campaigns. 

In 2018 the airline partnered with Girlguiding to sponsor the Aviation Badge for Brownies to get girls interested in flight at an early age. To date over 18,000 girls aged seven to ten have completed or are working towards their Aviation Badge.

As a result of its Amy Johnson Initiative, easyJet has more than doubled the number of female pilots with the airline since 2015 to more than 260 female pilots today. Its female pilot numbers continued to increase in 2020 and the airline continues to raise the profile of the career in schools.

Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s CEO.

The pandemic has affected pilot recruitment and easyJet, like all other airlines, will not be recruiting as many as before the Covid-19 outbreak, Mr Lundgren said.

“It is clear from our research that changing perceptions and ambitions for women starts in school which is why we have launched our largest ever pan-European school virtual school visits programme. And while this will drive change, we should not be under any illusions this will be overnight, nor will it be enough.

“This is the start of a long-term strategy, but I am confident it is one which will lead to us starting to change the face of our industry.”


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