Women are still a tiny minority of airline pilots, and Maria Pettersson, known on Instagram as Pilot Maria, hopes to see some major changes in that regard.
What inspired you to become an airline pilot?
I wanted to do a profession where I could travel and explore the world. Since a few years back I had been backpacking around the world and lived abroad. I couldn’t see myself doing an office job. My dad used to fly small, single engine aeroplanes when he was younger, never commercially, more as a hobby. I think unintentionally he passed that interest over to me. As soon as I decided that I wanted to become an airline pilot I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.
Why did you start using social media to share your career as an airline pilot?
My first job as a pilot took me to beautiful Sicily in Italy where I lived and worked for over two years. My family and friends back in Sweden, knowing all the hard work I had put in, were of course curious to know how everything was going, so I decided to start an Instagram where I could share my adventures for everyone to follow. I later learned how to use hashtags and reach out to a wider audience. I found out that it’s not just us pilots who love flying, the community is so much bigger, from flight attendants, to plane spotters, travelers, and those scared of flying who wanted to learn more of what’s going on behind that closed cockpit door.
Do you have any role models or mentors in your industry? If so, how have they helped you in your career?
When I started my journey to become a pilot, I didn’t know anyone else that was a pilot. It wasn’t till later that social media became a thing and I could follow other pilots and get inspired. One of the first female pilots that I started to follow was @susythepilot and I guess she became a role model for me. And especially now as well as an expecting mother, I can seek advice from her as she, a few years back, had a little one herself. There are not many female pilots, we’re only about four or five percent, so it’s great to have someone I can ask when questions arise.
What advice would you have for women who are just starting their career as an airline pilot?
Don’t think you are anything less for being a female in this industry, don’t set your mind to that you will struggle for being a woman. There is nothing in flying an aeroplane that makes it easier to do just because you’re a man, and there nothing that makes it more difficult just because you’re a woman. In-flight deck we’re all equal!
What is the best part about being able to share your experiences with your followers?
I love that I get to inspire others to become pilots. But not just pilots, I love that I get to inspire women and young girls that they can do anything they want, regardless of the typical stereotype.
What are some best practices for women who want to rise in leadership within the airline industry?
Don’t see yourself as different, see yourself as unique. See yourself as one in this 4 percent of female pilots who want to break the stereotype, see that as a power rather than a limit.
What are the changes you would like to see in the airline industry for women?
I would like to see better maternity schemes and female adapted uniforms. I know so many companies that still don’t have female shirts, for example, and they have to get the men’s shirts that of course doesn’t fit the female body. I would love to see more females starting their pilot career. We need to go back to young ages and break the stereotype of all pilots being men with a thick moustache.