Swire Group

Kimberly Kwok Pui-ying joins elite pilots of Dragonair as rare female

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 3:47am

Kimberly Kwok Pui-ying has been fascinated by aviation since she was a little girl. But it took years before her childhood dream to become a pilot finally took off.

Kwok is one of 15 cadet pilots, and one of very few women, to join the profession after graduating from Dragonair's training programme last month.

While the work was rigorous, including 60 weeks of training in Australia, to become a cadet, followed by six months of studying theory and being a pilot on real flights, first with a trainer, and then alone, she has never been happier.

"Whenever I sit in an airplane, I read the emergency cards, count the number of gates, observe the cabin crew. I am very interested in all these," said Kwok, who studied economics in the United States and worked as a financial researcher for five years before quitting to train with Dragonair.

Kwok is in elite company: among the 421 pilots in Dragonair, only 11 are women. But Doris Au Nim-ying, manager of the airline's crew resources, said anyone with the qualifications could apply.

"As long as they have the capabilities, no matter if they are male or female, we welcome them," she said.

Kwok believes women have stronger organisational skills and situational awareness, which are essential in flying an airplane. All the same, she says, there are challenges: "Some women are petite and are not very physically strong. It requires strength to pull the control stick and step [on] the pedal, as they are heavy."

Kwok's career switch comes at a time when experts predict a pilot shortage within the next 20 years. The planemaker Boeing estimates the Asia-Pacific region will need about 186,000 new pilots over that time.

Dragonair conducts training three times a year. About 50 cadets graduated from its flight school last year. By the end of this year, they need to train 12 more pilots.

Dragonair pilots earn a starting monthly salary of HK$30,000. It takes about eight years for a cadet to become a captain, who earns more than HK$100,000 a month.