Categorized | Featured, National News

Bahamasair Pilots Make History


Three women made history at the national flag carrier, Bahamasair, after becoming the first female captains to work for the airline in its 40-year history.

Frances Smith, Gwendolyn Ritchie and Gail Saunders have been flying, collectively, for more than 50 years and now join the ranks of many men who have dominated the aviation field for years.

Bahamasair Managing Director Henry Woods said the successes of these women are also successes of the company.

“On behalf of management and the staff of Bahamasair Captain Smith, Captain Ritchie and Captain Saunders we are extremely proud and we encourage you to be a beacon and model for others to follow,” Mr. Woods said.

“The Bahamasair family should be proud because when compared to the other airline giants, the volume in which we have been producing females I think we are above the average.”

Cpt. Smith who is the head pilot on a Dash 8 plane started flying commercially with Congo Air and later joined Bahamasair in March 1995 as a Shorts 360 first officer.

She was then promoted as a Dash 8 first officer in 1997 and the first officer on a B737 airplane in 2003.

“I had an interest in airplanes when I was very young,” she said. “I wanted to be a flight attendant but one of my school principals encouraged me to dream even bigger so I became a pilot. I am so happy to be a role model for young women.”

Cpt. Ritchie, who is also Dash 8 captain, said one of her fondest career moments was the day she flew into her hometown Ragged Island for the first time as the entire town was at the airport cheering her on.

But being a female in a male dominated industry was not always easy for Cpt. Saunders.

“Two male passengers refused to board one of my flights so I asked them to give me the opportunity to prove my capability before passing judgment,” she said. “At the end of my flight they said to me, ‘Miss, you are so (good), those men don’t know how to fly.’”

Flight Operations Manager at Bahamasair Paulo Cartwright said these female captains worked hard for their new posts and went through the ringer like everyone else.

“These girls got no special consideration,” he added. “They came into the company, they competed for their jobs against other applicants and while they were here they performed.

“Twice a year they go to the simulator like everyone else and they prove themselves there and in various emergency situations. They are holding their own and they have not asked for any special favours and they are carrying their weight. They have earned their way and proven themselves.”

The pilots are also all mothers and wives and have the hefty task of balancing weird shifts with family life.

“We do it with great difficulty,” Cpt. Ritchie said. “I work nights because my husband leaves so early in the morning, but we balance pretty well.”

“I’ve been married for the last 10 years and during nine of those years my husband was also a captain with Southern Air so we had to take shifts, I’d do the evening shifts and he did the mornings,” Captain Saunders added.

Bahamasair officials said there are two female first officers on the way to becoming captains.

With 72 pilots, they added that women make up nearly 10 per cent of the group.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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