Thursday, March 08, 2012

The women are taking off

Captain Ann Parr Waple of Air Mekong
Photo: VnExpress

With a tall, slender figure, an impressive 170 –centimeter height, long hair and a bright smile, 25-year-old Huynh Ly Dong Phuong surprises many when they learn that she is an experienced pilot.

She has worked for national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines for a year and a half now, and the beautiful pilot has caught many of her passengers by surprise when she walks out of the cockpit, and is often asked to take pictures with them.

Born and raised in Brussels (Belgium), she had always been fascinated with planes and airports whenever she went back to Vietnam for vacations. Since then, the young girl knew that she wanted to become a pilot.

Yet apparently the dream was opposed by Phuong’s parents, who suggested she take an easier office job. When her father passed away when she graduated from high school, Phuong was admitted into a business school, yet still found herself dreaming about the sky.

After finally obtaining her mother’s permission, Phuong came back to Vietnam and trained to become a pilot with Vietnam Airlines, which sent her to a 2-and-a-half-year training course in Montpellier (France) with 31 other trainees.

The course had four female pilots, and one dropped out before graduation. Phuong said there were times when she wanted to give up as she went through a lot of stress dealing with pressure and discrimination from male classmates who said “they had no idea what a girl was doing there.”

“Yet I also had very good instructors and friends who showed lots of support. I was determined to change others’ thinking about female pilots and make them realize that not only can women fly planes, they can also do it very well.”

To Phuong, her most memorable moment during the training was when she was allowed to fly on her own by her instructor. “I felt like a bird spreading its wings for the first time. It was so surprising and I was overwhelmed with emotions.” Then there was the first time Phuong took off with 180 passengers on board; “I looked at them and felt so nervous and happy at the same time.”

At present, Phuong flies both domestic routes to Hanoi, Hue, Da Nang and Cam Ranh; and international flights to China, Korea, Japan, Singapore or Malaysia.

“Each day on board is a new, happy and memorable day. The sky looks different everyday, and no fancy office can be as beautiful as that. I feel so blessed to fly pass many beautiful natural scenes and explore new lands,” Phuong shared, yet she said the busy working schedule has kept her from getting involved in any relationships.

25-year-old pilot Huynh Ly Dong Phuong

Being a pilot is an interesting and safe job

To many people, flying a plane may sound like a harsh and dangerous job that is more suitable for men, yet 29-year-old Ann Parr Waples, a captain of local airliner Air Mekong, thinks it is a very interesting and safe job.

Ann moved to Vietnam in October 2010 with her husband, who also flies for Air Mekong, after working for several American airlines.

“She is really nice and funny, yet once she gets into her cockpit, she is completely different, serious and really focused,” a flight attendant said about Ann, who came from Tennessee (America) and flies Air Mekong’s 90-seat Bombardier CRJ 900.

Ann’s father was a pilot, and she had her first training course at Middle Tennessee State University, where she found that flying a plane was not an easy job, as she had imagined. There are thousands of pieces of equipment and buttons in a plane’s cockpit, which requires pilots like Ann to log thousands of hours of training, simulating and examinations to excel in using them.

“To become a good pilot, it doesn’t matter if you are female or male, you have to train your judgment skill and your ability to deal with emergencies,”

While working in Vietnam, Ann has had to deal with situations like bad weather with heavy rains or dense fog, and passengers having serious health problems.

“Four months ago, on a flight from Hanoi to Saigon, there were 6 passengers with medical problems. I had to make an emergency landing to get these people into the nearest hospital. Fortunately all of them were OK, and I haven’t had any situations I couldn’t handle,” Ann said.

In her free time, Ann often travels around Vietnam with her husband to famous vacation spots from Phu Quoc and Nha Trang to Ha Long or Con Dao. “I love doing this job and I am proud of it,” the young captain said.

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