Of almost 30,000 pilots in the UK, fewer than 5% are women, but one aviator has set up a support network in a bid to help others get their wings.
When Katherine Moloney began flying, she did not know any other female pilots.
Keen to connect with likeminded women, she organized a lunch at Brighton City Airport.
Forty people from across the industry showed up and Elevate Her Aviation was born.
“We had the most amazing day,” she said. “It was quite emotional. When I came away, I knew I wanted to take this forward in a more meaningful way.”
A year later, in May 2023, Ms Moloney launched Elevate Her – a website providing resources for aspiring pilots and a social media community that has quickly grown to about 1,000 people.
Despite her father being a pilot, the 24-year-old grew up firmly believing aviation was not for her, but a trial flying lesson changed everything.
“That action of giving it a go – that completely changed my life and gave me a completely different perspective,” she said.
Now a private pilot of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, Ms Moloney flies out of Solent Airport but, until that first lunch, she said women had been completely absent from her aviation journey.
She said: “I’ve only been taught by men and they’ve all been incredible but I just felt like I was missing out on talking about this to other women.”
This year, Elevate Her Aviation held a second lunch – this time attracting around 70 delegates.
As well as connecting people, the project’s aim is to raise the profile of female pilots because, as the saying goes, you can’t be what you can’t see.
“The biggest problem is the lack of visual role models,” she said. “We want to promote those role models, promote that message.”
Among those to connect through the scheme is Lily Ayres from Bournemouth, an airworthiness engineer and aspiring commercial pilot.
She said her biggest challenge has been the cost of training, and it wasn’t until she joined Southampton University Air Squadron and won scholarships from the Air League and British Women Pilots Association that she “started to believe” in herself.
“Training to become a commercial pilot can cost up to £120,000,” she said.
“Which for the average individual of any background or gender is not viable.
“That, coupled with the fact that there are not many female role models, can be just enough to turn women away from the industry.
“It is challenging and hard work, but it’s even harder without believing that you can do it, and without seeing people like you, from your background, working in those jobs.”
Ms Ayres’ says her love of flying began with watching planes coming in to Heathrow from her mother’s back garden in west London.
She said: “I didn’t know a soul who was interested in aviation growing up, let alone anyone who worked in the industry, which was isolating as I had no clue where to start.
“Elevate Her has connected me with likeminded women – many have faced the same challenges as me. I now have a fantastic community who make me feel valued and seen.
“We are all there to lift each other up and provide support and resources to anyone interested who might need it.”
The popularity of Elevate Her prompted Ms Moloney to enlist the help of volunteers who look after the group’s social media and blogs.
Maddison Buckley, who helps run the Elevate Her social media channels, began flying at 16 but found the cost unsustainable so opted to channel her efforts – and money – into her studies.
She’s now on a placement with BAE Systems as part of her law degree at the University of Southampton and plans to take to the skies again when she graduates.
She said: “I felt so out of touch with the aviation community because I didn’t feel good enough, and I still don’t sometimes because I currently don’t fly, but Katherine and all the wonderful team and other women are so supportive.
“Elevate Her has really been that push for me because I felt like I was losing sight of ever completing my PPL (private pilot licence) and becoming a pilot.”