At only 26, five years after joining EasyJet, Kate McWilliams passed her command exam and now flies Airbus A320s from the left-hand seat. She is also keen to spread the word about the career she loves.
Have you always been interested in aviation?
When I was very young I wanted to be a veterinarian but after having lots of pets I discovered I wasn’t very good at looking after them. I did always have an interest in flying though, after going to air shows with my godparents. When I was 13 I joined the Air Cadets, where I got my first experience of flying an aircraft for myself. My school encouraged university but I didn’t feel like it was the right option for me – I wanted to travel and see a bit of the world but at the same time take the first steps towards my dream career. So I applied to a flight training school called CTC Aviation.
It is a UK-based company but the flying training takes place in either New Zealand or Arizona. I spent a year with CTC flying in New Zealand, and when I wasn’t flying, I was sightseeing. Some would say it sounds like a pretty great gap year.
Why did you decide to become an airline rather than a military aircraft pilot?
From my experiences of visiting RAF bases with the Air Cadets I originally considered nothing other than a military career. I was lucky enough to gain some very valuable work experience with the Royal Navy too. However, when I finished school in 2008 I was advised by a military pilot to look into commercial aviation opportunities. He pointed me in the direction of CTC and after doing some research of my own, I never looked back.
You received a lot of publicity when you became the youngest airline captain. How has this changed your life?
The last few months have been something of a whirlwind since my story hit the press. I’m really not used to being in the spotlight, but the whole idea of the publicity was to encourage other young men and women to achieve their dreams. As a result, I have been invited to many schools and careers events to share my achievement in the hope of inspiring those youngsters to achieve their potential, which is something I am very passionate about.
Does being such a youthful airline captain have its downsides?
I’ve never experienced a passenger or a crew member who was nervous because of my age. I am relatively young to be an airline captain, but age is just a number. It’s all about experience. I’ve been flying for over seven years now and have accumulated thousands of flying hours which brings with it experience. I have passed the same exams and courses as every other captain. I just happen to have achieved it at a slightly younger age.
What is the best part of the job?
The thing I love most is the unknown that comes with every day. Each day I work with a new crew and fly to a different destination which brings with it varying challenges such as weather, different approach procedures or air traffic restrictions. No two days are ever the same.
What is your next career move?
I’ve only been a captain for six months, so at the moment I am enjoying the challenges that every new commander faces as they settle in to the left-hand seat. But I previously worked in risk management and I would really like to bring that together with flying and work in a flight safety role in the future.
Where do see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years’ time I’ll be 36 and I hope the future is still orange. I see many opportunities for a long career at EasyJet, with the potential to branch into other departments such as the flight safety team to help maintain our industry-leading safety record.
What do you do in your spare time?
My friends who aren’t in the world of aviation would argue that I have a lot of spare time with the shift pattern that I work. I honestly don’t know how they cope with just a two-day weekend as I always get three or four days off at a time. So I like to make the most of staff perks and travel as much as I can. I’ve just got back from a long weekend in Vienna which was fabulous! But when I’m at home I’m a keen cyclist and a regular parkrunner.