The view’s better from the cockpit

Jo Anne Toral has followed in both her parents’ footsteps: first as cabin crew and later at the front of the aircraft as a first officer with Cebu Pacific. Next stop, she says, is the captain’s seat in a widebody.

Have you always been interested in aviation?

I was fortunate to grow up in a family involved with aviation. My father is a retired airline pilot, my mother is a former flight attendant and my older brother is also a pilot. This meant I was inspired to become an aviator from a young age – it’s always been in my blood.

Tell us about your career to date

I worked as cabin crew for Philippine Airlines for three years. This really helped me ascertain that I wanted to pursue a career as an airline pilot. I started at flying school in January 2015. I completed my ab initio and Airbus rating course at Alpha Aviation, one of Asia’s leading pilot training providers, which took approximately 17 months. After going through a stringent hiring process, I secured a position with Cebu Pacific, starting off as a training first officer. After a few months of supervised line flying, I got released to the line as a regular first officer in January 2016, where I am now. I owe a huge part of this to the Alpha Aviation academy, as I don’t believe my progression would have been possible without their facilities and instructors.

Why did you decide to pursue a career as an airline pilot?

Mainly because I loved working in this industry and sought professional growth. I also wanted to rekindle a desire I’d always had to get a job that would allow me to travel to different places and cities. But most of all, this career will always have a special place in my heart because of my parents – and I too wanted to make my mark in this industry.

Did you face many hurdles breaking into a male-dominated industry?

Piloting isn’t about gender, so I faced exactly the same hurdles that my male colleagues faced, but maybe with a different intensity. The only downside of being a woman was that I was always more critical of myself and I always felt the need to do my best. It never crossed my mind that being a woman diminished my capability.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

For my parents’ generation, air travel was exclusive to those who were in the upper class – and in the Philippines not many had the luxury to afford travelling by air. While travelling by sea was cheaper, it would take them days to get to their destination. Working for a low-cost carrier such as Cebu Pacific is great because it provides affordable, safe and reliable air travel which is readily accessible to almost everyone, no matter what their financial capability or social status may be. This makes my job worthwhile. And of course, the view from the flightdeck is breathtaking!

What are the challenges?

The first challenge is conditioning yourself. Being a pilot is a tough profession to get into, and is very demanding mentally, physically and emotionally – even spiritually. It is very demanding of your time as well, and you have to sacrifice a lot to be successful in this line of work. But when you learn how to orient yourself with all of this in mind, studying long hours, taking numerous examinations, undergoing gruelling flight and simulator sessions, learning the standard procedures and how to multitask, these no longer feel like challenges but rather essentials in the whole process of becoming a pilot.

What can the industry do to increase female representation in the cockpit?

Ultimately the industry needs to keep chipping away at the gender gap. Career talks in schools, campaigns and inspirational women pilots portrayed in media would help children (especially young girls) to be presented with the idea that they can be anything they want to be.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I would hope to be a captain by then of a widebody aircraft, or perhaps have a place in the management of the airline I’d be working for. I’d also like to start to build my own flying-related business on the side. 

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