The Women Pilots of FedEx: The Sky Should Never Be the Limit
Circling the globe, transporting cargo as precious as a human heart, as adorable as a pair of pandas or as irreplaceable as Catherine the Great’s favorite jewel encrusted icon, the women pilots of FedEx are quite accustomed to moving rarities from one place to another. It’s the business they’re in, and they love it. At the same time, there is one thing they wish were a bit less special about their job – being a woman in a pilot’s uniform.
Worldwide, it’s estimated that no more than six percent of pilots are female. That’s changing for the better, but slowly. Annie Mattos, a FedEx pilot originally from a small town in Oregon, now based at the company’s Cologne, Germany hub, always knew that being a pilot was something that set her heart racing. And she wasn’t disappointed. Having started flying planes at the tender age of 19, Captain Mattos caught the flying bug early and this passion has transcended to her 20 year old daughter who is also studying to go into the profession.
“My dad’s a pilot,” says Captain Mattos, which is another pattern among women pilots. “That’s how I got into it. He definitely encouraged me. I can remember doing a career report in the 9th grade, and you had to pick three careers, and the one that I chose, because I liked the idea of travel, was flight attendant. And Dad said, ‘Don’t be a flight attendant, you can fly the plane!’ So I think that’s the first time I realized there was a possibility that I could do that too.”
A lack of awareness that a seat in the cockpit is even an option, women pilots say again and again, is perhaps the biggest single obstacle to more women with wings. Not that there aren’t other challenges, of course. Night shifts, long absences and erratic schedules can pose an additional challenge to home life but this is all part of the juggling act that working parents in many industries have to circumnavigate.
Susanne Brun, another Fedex pilot at the Cologne hub, who lives in Stockholm, also heralds from a family of aviators. Her father was a former private pilot and her sister now flies planes for Delta Airline. Mother to an eight-year old boy, Captain Brun believes there are ways for parents, and especially mums, to fly and still be around to have quality time with their children. In fact, she believes her career choice gives her an advantage over other professions in that she is able to spend quality time with her son when she is off duty, rather than a few hours here and then.
“I know couples at FedEx who are both pilots and they have children, so they need to have a full-time nanny to make it work. But they can make it work. It is nice for a child to have someone at home every night. I can’t give that, but I give other stability, because when I’m home I’m home for 24 hours. I’m always here when I’m home.”
As for whether it matters if a man or a woman is in the pilot’s seat – no, they all quickly say! This is something they say their male colleagues overwhelmingly agree with, whatever prejudices may have existed a generation or so ago. Capt. Brun says all pilots are really quite alike, whatever their gender: “I would say that all pilots are type-A. They want to decide things.”
Molly Boss, a FedEx pilot based in the Hong Kong hub, believes it’s a positive thing that women have started to make their mark on this profession because they often have different skillsets which are complementary to their male counterparts in the cockpit.
As Capt. Brun commented, both men and women at the controls can add up to the best of both worlds. “I think that the combination of a man and a woman can be good in the cockpit because you get the diversity, the different viewpoints.”
Women are not new to aviation. The Wright Brothers first flew in 1903, and by 1910 Raymonde de Laroche of France became the first woman in the world to earn a pilot’s license. That same year, Bessica Medlar Raiche became the first American woman to solo. In 1932, 80 years ago, legendary pilot Amelia Earhart completed the first solo flight by a woman across the Atlantic. She would disappear, tragically, in 1937, on an around-the-world flight. She and so many others remain inspirations for women who fly or dream of it. Today, Women in Aviation, International (WAI) has more than 9,000 members, including corporate professionals throughout the industry, students, enthusiasts – and pilots.
It is a legacy the women pilots of FedEx say they are proud of and determined to continue, with most saying they feel a real sense of mission to spread the word to as many young women as possible so that they too can lift-off. “It is a job, sure,” says Capt. Mattos, who’s been flying for more than 20 years, “But it’s a great job. There’s always new challenges, always something to keep you involved and intrigued and on your toes. It’s still fun. I still love flying.” She and every other FedEx pilot say when it comes to women and flying a plane – the sky should never be the limit.