Qantas initiative to drive next generation of female pilots

The Qantas Group has set itself the ambitious task of increasing the number of female pilots in its ranks through its 2018 cadet program in a bid to tackle gender inequality in the aviation industry.

Named after the legendary Australian female aviator, the recently launched Nancy Bird-Walton Initiative sees Qantas committing to a 20% intake of qualified women – with the aim of doubling the figure to 40% over the next decade.

To achieve this, Qantas is working closely with industry organisations and education bodies to promote flying as a career for women; as well as encouraging the uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in schools.

In this article, three female Qantas pilots share the highs of having the ultimate window seat and the challenge of breaking stereotypes.


Arika Maloney, Second Officer Airbus 380
Flying for 15 years.

When did you know you wanted to become a pilot?


As a young child I remember quite vividly visiting the cockpit, meeting the pilots and being in awe.

As a young teenager I discussed the idea of a career in aviation with my mum. I didn’t actually even think of the possibility of being a pilot because I hadn’t seen many female pilots so had just assumed the job was for men only. It was my mum that said, “If you love flying, why not actually fly the plane?”.

I believe this is a stereotype not yet broken. Even now when I hear a female voice over the PA it makes my ears prick up.

We are shaped from such a young age. I never saw a female pilot as a child, therefore I never thought I could be one.  I think it’s important for children to realise these possibilities early and see and hear positive reinforcement to dream big, telling us we can be what we want to be, just like my mum did for me.

I see kids watch us we walk through the terminal, whether it’s at the entire crew in uniform or specifically at me because I’m female, I don’t know, but I certainly hope I’m inspiring the next generation of female pilots.


What is the best part about being a pilot?

The best part about being a pilot is being able to do what I love. No day is ever the same. Every sunrise and sunset is worth being up for, even if your body clock is telling you otherwise.


Would you recommend a career as a pilot to other young women?

Absolutely! If flying is something you’re interested in or passionate about, pursue it! It can be a challenging career choice but it’s absolutely worth it. I honestly couldn’t imagine doing anything else or loving another job as much as I love flying.

It’s a male dominated industry, but I’ve never seen it like that. I’ve always felt accepted and encouraged. In my eyes, I’m no different to any other pilot in the industry, male or female, we’re all just doing what we love.

Anita Murray-Jones, Qantas Manager Fleet Operations Boeing 737
Flying for 28 years.

When did you know you wanted to become a pilot?

My Father was a pilot and as kids he used to take us to air shows. One in particular stuck in my mind. It was held at Richmond Airforce Base and I was just seven years old. I was fascinated by all things that flew that day and couldn’t keep my eyes off the sky.

I never got to fly with dad at Qantas, but lots of my colleagues did. He was a mentor to many. I’ve been told some wonderful stories about advice he gave to his students. He was a huge advocate for Crew Resource Management (the use of teamwork, open communication and decision making to increase awareness and problem solving capabilities in the cockpit) and the importance of training culture. His advice when he retired was: “Aviation is a changing world and we need to change with it, but remember you don’t need to do it alone. We’re a team.”

What would you say has been the highlight of your career to date?

For me, it’s always going to be the first time I flew solo, but there have been so many highlights I could go on forever – taking my dad out flying when I first got my licence, my first landing in a jet and gaining my command in Qantas!

How has the pilot industry changed over the length of your career?

When I started with Qantas we use to think Bangkok-London was a long flight, now we have Perth-London with the view to one day fly Sydney-London. Technology has had such an impact on the industry, we’re flying faster, further and more safely than ever before. It’s been amazing to be part of a generation of pilots making history.

Captain Debbie Slade, Fleet Safety Captain
Flying for 35 years

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

There have been many highlights. But getting my command (becoming a Captain) was such a huge milestone for me. It was something I had worked towards for a long time and it’s a responsibility I continue to thrive on.

I’ve also been lucky enough to witness the full life cycle of some of our aircraft. From collecting a brand new aircraft from the Boeing factory in Seattle, operating the delivery flights home to Australia, and ultimately flying one of our retired aircraft to the desert in America.

What is the best part about being a pilot?

The best part about being a pilot is the people I work with. I work with highly qualified, extremely professional, like-minded people. Even when I haven’t previously flown with the other crew members – which often happens – I have complete confidence that, as Qantas pilots, they will do their job to the highest standard.

Would you recommend a career as a pilot to other young women?

Absolutely. I love going to work – I’m getting paid for something I genuinely love doing.

Study the right subjects at school. Go to your local airport and take a Trial Introductory Flight – you’ll know if you’re going to love it straight away! Start early and find a mentor to guide you on your way.

Most of the challenges I have faced involved returning to work after having a family. At that time, I didn’t have access to flexible work arrangements and I had a tough time juggling the responsibilities of parenting a baby whilst managing a variable work roster.

Since then, much has changed and new parents now have access to flexible conditions, working reduced rosters that allow them to care for their family without foregoing their career. It’s a wonderful time to fly!

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