Meet Rachna Reiter, a role model for aspiring female pilots!
What is your background? What sparked your interest in becoming a pilot?
My background is Asian (born in Delhi, India), and moved to Amsterdam at the age of 7. My schooling and education were done in The Netherlands. After completing my secondary education, I went on to study a Bachelors’ degree in Aeronautical Engineering. It was my parents’ suggestion to get a degree before starting flight training so that I had something to fall back on.
When I was 7 years old, my father travelled to India and saw a female pilot. He was so inspired by her that he encouraged me to consider taking up a career as a pilot. It was since that age that I started becoming interested in becoming a pilot. Growing up, I was a bit of a ‘tomboy’. If you would ask my mother she would tell you that I was never interested in playing with dolls!
Have you had much support along the way?
My family as a whole has been very inspiring. Both my dad and my brother have worked tirelessly to be successful in whatever they did. Their best quality has been their determination and resilience. Even though my mother is a housewife, she has always supported my dream to become a pilot. Even after having kids, she encouraged me to continue working.
What was the gender demographics during university and training?
The demographics balance was just terrible! During my degree, there were 5 girls out of around 80-100 boys when the program started. By the end of the first year, there were only 2 girls left,(including me) out of 50-60 students. When I graduated, I was the only girl. This has been pretty much the case throughout my flight training and up until now. Once in a while, there would be another female trainee, but most of the time, I have been the only one.
Do you feel a great deal of responsibility as a female pilot to break the ‘glass ceiling’?
I didn’t grow up thinking there was a ‘ glass ceiling’ nor did I think that there are ”male and ”female” jobs. During university, I quickly realised the aviation industry was heavily male-dominated but for pilots, there are clear pay-scales and most airlines have transparent seniority lists or process for the upgrade program. The ratio of females in the industry is very low (5% globally) but I know several female captains and even seen all-female crews on some flights so this is very exciting. Once you are in, there is no distinction between male or female!
What challenges have you faced along the way? The biggest challenge has always been to be taken seriously. The fact that you are as capable as other trainees. This has changed throughout the years. The gender gap is now openly discussed and many countries are aware of the fact that it is important to have a diverse workforce. I once applied for a flight crew job outside of Europe and I was told that they do not take female pilots! Some cultures or older generations of leaders are still conservative in thinking and I had to work extra hard to convince them that my point is worth considering.
What do you love about your job? The flying!! It feels amazing to take- off and land an airplane. The aircraft is one hell of an invention and to actually be able to operate it safely feels like a great achievement. Every day is different and every flight is performed under different circumstances and constraints. The highest number of passengers we, as crew, have ever transported was 511, so the feeling of responsibilities was immense.
What are your ambitions for the future? My ambition is to gradually grow into the higher management of an airline. Currently, I fly for a commercial airline in Europe and thoroughly enjoy it while studying for my MBA in aviation management. Since I enjoy flying so much and it is a very niche skill, I am not ready to give it up in the near future. What advice would you give to young girls who are interested in becoming pilots? The only advice I would give is to work hard and be resilient. The aviation industry is a very fragile industry. It is not always easy to find a job as a pilot so it requires huge determination. Once you have found a job as a pilot that is just the start… from here on, you will be required to study hard, work under pressure and have a difficult schedule (sometimes far from your family), revalidate your skills every 6-month via assessments… however, you will enjoy the job, meet amazing people, discover new places and all of it will be worth it! I have started writing it all on my blog www.she-pilots.com and will continue to post more of my experience in the future.