Meeting the pilots: Captain Emelie Bonin
Today, women only account for approximately 5.44% of airline commercial pilots globally, and few women choose a pilot education. This needs to change! With Boeing and Airbus having forecasted the need for as many as 617,000 new pilots by 2035, there is no better time for more women to take to the skies.
We talked to Captain Emelie Bonin – a great role model who has been with OSM Aviation and Norwegian flying the Boeing 737 for almost 6 years.
Emelie shares her views on equal careers, her motivation and what it’s like to work as a pilot.
Emelie Bonin is 33 years old (soon 34) and works as a Captain flying Norwegians Boeing 737. She was born in the south of Sweden, but now lives in Uppsala, in the north of Arlanda, together with her boyfriend.
In her spare time Emelie likes to stay active and has competed in a few different sports, most recently in Fitness. Emelie loves to travel and does it as often as she can, and when she’s at home she likes to relax with some knitting.
“It had nothing to do with being a boy or a girl.”
The story says that when she was a little girl, and she and her family were going on a vacation, she told her parents that she wanted to become a flight attendant. – I most probably thought they were beautiful, Emelie says. My dad told me that being a pilot, sitting in the front of the plane is much better and he took me to the flight deck to say hello to the pilots. This became standard process when we travelled; me visiting the pilots. And I have wanted to be a pilot ever since.
Emelie thinks it’s sad that we can’t let children in to visit us pilots anymore.
I’m very grateful that I have parents that have removed all the “gender issues” in my life. When I grew up I never saw my gender as an issue in anything. I could be whatever I wanted. It had nothing to do with being a boy or a girl. All of that came later when I met people that are raised in a different way…
Growing up she can’t really say she had anyone who she looked up to, that she can remember. – I had my parents!
I remember my dad showed me an article about SAS’s first female captain and told me that this would be me one day! But I didn’t understand how big that really was. She was just like any pilot in my eyes.
“Corporate wasn’t my dream after all.”
Emelie went to aviation high school in the north of Sweden, Scandinavian Aviation Academy, and was only 16 years old when she started to study for her Commercial Pilot License. In her class of 26 students they were 8 girls, but she thinks it’s only 2 working as pilots today – and both are working for Norwegian.
After high School she did military service as a flight mechanic for 11 months before she continued with the studies to become a pilot. She took her multi engine license and MCC after the military service and finished her ATPL-theory in 2006.
In 2007 she got her first job. I was nagging the boss at a small taxi company for a few months before he finally gave me a contract. Emelie says. I flew Pa-31 and Metroliner for 1,5 years working day and night flying newspapers and deportees. I also worked as the operations, sold and planned flights and changed the aircrafts from freight to passenger configuration. Very good experience, but not what I wanted to do.
In 2008 she got her second job flying the Bae ATP domestic in Sweden, and she did that for almost 3 years.
2010 she got her dream job – corporate or business jet, flying the Cessna Citation X. Great fun and a lot of good experience. The company decided to sell the aircraft after 1,5 years and she became unemployed. “Good, when I look back at it, because it forced me to apply for a job with Norwegian (again – it wasn’t the first time) and I got the best job I have ever had. Now I have been with OSM Aviation and Norwegian, flying the Boeing 737, for almost 6 years and I love it! As it turned out corporate wasn’t my dream after all.”
“…if you are the only female, how many will vote for your question? Probably not very many…”
Emelies guess to why so few women choose a pilot education is that it’s seen as a male profession. Ask anyone what they picture when you say “Captain” or “pilot” and they most probably see a man. Maybe it’s the society and how we are raised?
We also have the family part. As a pilot you are away from home a lot and I think in general that we still picture the traditional family where the mom is at home and the dad is at work. Even if this is far away from the reality!
Also, we can’t fly when we are pregnant, and of course the mom has to be home for some time when the baby has been born. This might not be the best for your career as a pilot, but that needs to be changed! Emelie has tried to raise the question with a union once and got the answer that they will put the question on the agenda. Then all the members could vote for which questions they thought was the most important to bring to the company. If you are the only female, how many will vote for your question? Probably not very many…
“…sometimes I just want to be a pilot, not a female pilot!”
The biggest obstacle Emelie has met in her career has probably just been ‘me, myself and I’. “I think many women have this problem.” As she got older, and became a part of aviation she realized that there were people out there that thought female pilots weren’t as good as men. That they weren’t as technical etc. – “I wanted to prove them wrong! I was just as good, maybe better!” So, she studied and tried her best all the time – never giving up. – “But every time someone stepped on you with their stereotypes on aviation you feel a bit beaten and have to work your way back up again.”. Today, Emelie don’t care about what people say (most of the time) when it comes to male or female stereotypes, – “but of course… sometimes I just want to be a pilot, not a female pilot!”
“…if he hadn’t been in such a rush he would have left the plane, because females have nothing to do in flight deck. He wouldn’t even look at me.”
Pilot is an interesting job where you meet a lot of different kind of people, cultures and get to see new places. Also, many personal goals that gives you a great feeling when they are reached. Like when I did my first solo flight or when I got my 4 stripes – magical and terrifying at the same time.
I can tell one story that reflects the female part of aviation. It wasn’t working for Norwegian. I was the First Officer and the passenger, a very important one, came in to the front and told the captain that during no circumstances could I touch anything on flight deck. I was only allowed to sit there. If he hadn’t been in such a rush he would have left the plane, because females have nothing to do in flight deck. He wouldn’t even look at me.
I just looked out of my window and smiled…
“Win-Win, we thought.”
Emelie and two friends, Susanna Sundberg and Emelie Lundh, started a charity project – AviatrixArt – a few years back. They made a calendar with female pilots raising money for cancer research. “Win-win, we thought.” Spreading light on female pilots and doing something good at the same time. It wasn’t easy. I don’t think that female pilots want to stand out all the time, Emelie says. We got a lot of great feedback, but of course there where people questioning that there were only female pilots in the calendar. Apparently, people thought there should be equality – both men and women. Kind of funny when you think of it – the male pilots felt left out in an industry which is male dominated.
Emelies best day working is when she feels that she and the crew are happy with what they have accomplished during the day. If everything went well and my crew feels happy and pleased I know we all had a good day at work and that feels like a reward to me. And the other way around, if they are unhappy I most probably didn’t do as good a job and that doesn’t feel good at all.
You can have a lot of difficulties during the day that are not very pleasant to deal with. But in the end of the day if we feel that we did the best we could, and hopefully had fun as well, then it’s a good day.
> Have you ever thought about quitting and giving it all up?
Yes, I have. More than once! But I’m not a quitter so I haven’t and I probably never will!
> What could the industry do to attract more females?
It’s a hard question. Improve the CLA’s – make it easier to have an equal career. Show the world that we want female aviators and that we have female aviators! A captain can be a woman or a man it has nothing to do with your gender. If we speak about pilots as females instead of men maybe that would help?
Remove the word female pilot – all of us are just pilots.
I don’t think the gender matters, we are all individuals. Some individuals are better fitted than others.
> What does it take to become and work as a pilot? Which strengths and qualities are important for a pilot?
The ability to deal with stress is important. Also, being a good leader is very important, the ability to have good cooperation with everybody involved and at the same time being able to take hard decisions when needed. But of course you need to study all the manuals as well and be humble to the task.
> As a pilot what question do you get asked the most?
When I was a first officer it was “when will you become a pilot, and start flying?” But now, maybe it’s if we fly at all, or if it’s the autopilot who does all the work.
> Describe your work day in 3 words.
Challenging, fun, varying
> What does “It’s all about people” mean to you?
Everybody matters, crew, passengers, personnel around the aircraft – everybody. We are a team, and everybody should have a great experience.
> What’s the one thing you always pack for every flight?
Toothbrush and bikini – you never know where you will end up 😉