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Pilot: Joy Finnigan MAG
One of my dreams has always been to learn to fly. Joy Finnigan, a family friend, has inspired me with her achievements. She has become successful in aviation, a field often thought to belong to men.
What is your profession?
I am a pilot and fly for a new airline. I fly DC-9s. I am a first officer, hoping to upgrade to captain within a year.
Where are some of the places your career takes you?
I fly to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York and Washington, D. C. right now, and am hoping to expand to other destinations, possibly Chicago and San Francisco.
How much are you away from home on a monthly basis?
I have a terrific schedule because I am based in Dallas, which is the hub for the airline. I am able to bid for a schedule that keeps me home every night, so I fly 13 or 14 days a month. It's wonderful.
Are there many female pilots?
I've heard that less than five percent of pilots are women. That holds true at the airline I work for.
Are there any advantages or disadvantages of being a female pilot?
When I was a flight instructor, I think I had an advantage since male students were less afraid to ask questions of a woman or appear as if they didn't know much than if they had a guy instructor. I think they want to feel all macho and knowledgeable when they are with a guy, but when they were with me they would say stuff like, 'Hey, Joy, I don't get this, I don't understand. Tell me again why we are doing this. '
As for being an airline pilot, the advantages are few and far between. I would say the disadvantages are that to achieve as much as a man in this profession, you have to work twice as hard. So many people still have the mindset that only men can do certain jobs. You have to work hard to overcome that.
Have you ever been discriminated against because you are a woman?
It has happened. I do know that I was denied a job because I am a woman. The president of the company said he didn't want to have a woman in the position I was applying for. But incidents like that have been pretty in frequent for me.
When did you know you wanted to be a pilot?
I read a book about flying when I was in tenth grade by Anne Morrow Lindberg called North to the Orient, about she and her husband, Charles Lindberg, flying to Asia to map routes for an airline. It was such an amazing book, and such a journey they took, that I thought, What a life that would be - to have adventures and fly airplanes and do that kind of thing for a living. I said to my dad, 'I think I'd like to learn to fly. ' He was really supportive and took me to a local airport and signed me up for lessons.
How did you get to be where you are today?
There are two routes you can take to become a professional pilot. One is the military. The other is the civilian route. I went to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, a four-year college that integrates learning to fly with a degree. Once I graduated I taught as a flight instructor there for two years. I was able to gain a lot of experience, and with pilots it is all based on how many flight hours you have. From Embry Riddle I got a job as a charter pilot. I gained more experience there at a higher level because I was flying multi-engine aircraft. I even flew jet aircraft. Then I went to the commuter airlines and now to this new airline.
What would you say to young women who have a passion for aviation?
To pursue a career in aviation you need to study and learn and be the best that you can be. So when people are thinking about who would be the best person for this job there will be no question.
Do you think all your work has paid off?
I do, because I have a fabulous job where I am able to balance my work and family life, which is very important to me. My schedule allows me to do things a lot of working moms can't. Because I have days off during the week, I can volunteer at school and get my kids to their activities, whereas if I had a regular 9 to 5 job I couldn't.
What do you like and dislike most about your career?
The thing I like most is that it's always challenging and interesting. I get to see a lot of things others don't. I'll give you an example- St. Elmo's Fire, which is a build-up of static electricity on the aircraft. It happens a lot when you are flying in or around thunderstorms. It makes the airplane glow, and it's really amazing. I have seen gorgeous moonrises over a high cloud deck, and I have seen Saturn and Jupiter rise from the air, which is an awesome sight.
I guess what I dislike is that sometimes my schedule requires me to get up extremely early. That is probably the worst thing. Of course, there is some unpredictability. I could end up in L. A. with a mechanical problem and be forced to spend the night. That's not fun.
Have you had any close calls while in the cockpit?
Yes, I flew with a pilot once who turned out to be very ill. While we were flying he sort of blacked out. At the moment it happened I was not aware that he was out of it and the airplane was flying itself. By the time I realized what was happening, we were getting slow in our air speed. I realized it, added power and recovered, but it was kind of a close call.
As far as careers go, aviation and flying are very exciting. If you are going to pursue it, make sure you really love it because it can be a very difficult career path. It is also hard to balance family and work at the beginning. Once you've made the airlines, it's pretty great. But the early years are difficult.
Interviewing Joy really made me realize that any career is possible if you work hard enough at it. She continues to inspire me.