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How women pilots are getting involved in BALPA and being the voice of pilots

by BALPA Women Pilots Group

To mark International Women’s Day we hear from two women pilots who have got involved in BALPA work as members of the National Executive Committee. They tell us the challenges they’ve faced in the industry and why they felt it important to get involved in their union.

First Officer Sam Walkinshaw

Executive Vice President BALPA

I was 16 when I was told by in the RAF careers office that I couldn’t be a pilot because I was a girl. The irony is I didn’t want to be a pilot then because it had never occurred to me that I could be one. Due to the lack of role models, job stereotyping went unchecked.

I changed career at the age of 30. I decided life was too short to not to try. I went down the modular route, built up hours as a flying instructor and then got myself a job flying the SAAB340. 11 years on turbo props of which nearly 9 were as a Captain. I loved it!

The past 5 years have been more turbulent with two redundancies and the COVID-19 crisis. I now fly the airbus and I still love it. I have a genuine joy taking people on their holidays. I can’t wait to return to flying and see all the lovely passengers we have the privilege to look after.

I have been involved with BALPA for 14 years. My roles have included industrial rep, health and safety rep, Company Chair, Legal services sub-committee and, since November, the honour of serving as EVP on the NEC.

My ambition is to have just one girl say that seeing females in aviation or union roles was what empowered them to become involved in either. That would be the highlight of my career.

First Officer Andrea Brezonakova

National Executive Council BALPA

As I professional pilot who entered the industry in 2008 at a young age – I was 21 at that time, I have experienced various operating environments.

With the first airline, I was the only female pilot. Having worked with four airlines since then, the participation of women pilots has significantly improved. However, female pilots are still approached differently across Europe and globally.

Becoming a BALPA rep has not been a straightforward path for me. Initially, I volunteered to assist with scheduling matters as this work complemented my postgraduate studies. My Company Council needed new reps at that time and they asked me if I would like to join the team. So I did, and since then, assisting my colleagues in improving working conditions has become an everyday task.

To be awarded a Rep of the Year was something I never expected to achieve. It meant a lot to me. I thought that as a team, we must have been doing something right!

A few years later, I submitted a nomination form in the NEC elections. The day I knew the results, I was extremely grateful and humbled. I promised myself to represent the interests of the electorate who voted for me. And so I do, every day and with every vote that the NEC takes.

As a woman in a male-dominated profession, I believe women have great talent to offer. Many women excel at soft skills, which are some of the trending 21st-century skill sets. Many women also have skills of empathay and understanding and some people say women perform better at multitasking.

I believe experiencing both the rep and NEC roles is a life lesson in leadership and decision-making, together with an insight into what a management role takes.

Alongside the chance to help make our community better – I do find this experience invaluable and rewarding.