October Cover Woman: NH Captain, Amanda Pearson

Flying High With Pilot Amanda Pearson

Written by Crystal Ward Kent

Passengers disembarking Endeavor Air, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, are often surprised to find that their captain is a charming 26-year-old woman. First Officer Amanda Pearson still looks more like the college student she recently was than an experienced aviator and flight instructor. She is one of a small number of female commercial pilots and passionate about flying and women in aviation.

For Pearson, “slipping the surly bonds of earth” is almost a daily experience, as she helms her CRJ900, a 76-seat passenger jet, on frequent trips up and down the Eastern Seaboard. She is also rated to fly sea planes and is a flight instructor for single and multi-engine aircraft. If it flies, Pearson is interested in learning about it. “I gave myself sea plane training as a graduation gift after college,” she says. “I would like to learn about gliders next. I do hope to have my own plane one day, ideally a sea plane or glider, but right now I’m too busy to make that commitment, and I do love flying jets.”

Pearson began her career in aviation almost by accident, but once she got a taste of flying, she never looked back. “I went to college for general studies and was not quite sure what career path I wanted to take,” she recalls. “Fortunately, my school had a flight school as part of its offerings. Some of my friends enrolled and I became intrigued by what they were learning. I signed up for classes and knew I’d found my calling. For me, flying is not a hobby, it’s my career. Getting in the cockpit never gets old. Every take off, every landing, every trip is different. I love flying for the challenges it presents. Challenges keep me going. Flying is an amazing way to make a living.”

Even Pearson’s personal time often revolves around flying. “I think sea planes are cool, but I also knew that learning to fly one would teach me what it’s like to land on water. Two years ago, I went hang gliding at Morningside Flight Park here in New Hampshire. It was incredible to go from flying with two jet engines to flying with no engine. It also taught me a lot about aerodynamics. I always like to learn something new, and especially as it relates to flying.”

Pearson has been flying commercially for three years and says that every trip is unique. “You can start out with clear, sunny skies as you leave New York and then run into heavy thunderstorms building up as you approach Florida. You then spend the last part of your trip finding your way around thunderheads and lightening. You never know how the day will change. Winter flying is always interesting with the ice, cold and heavy snow, but we have fantastic ground crews. The team in Manchester, New Hampshire for example, knows how to plow those runways; they have it down to a science, and the airlines have so many safety procedures in place for de-icing and different flight conditions, that you feel pretty confident no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.

“Sometimes it’s not even the weather that can make a flight challenging,” she adds. “Maybe there is a medical emergency on board or turbulence that forces us to change course. The goal is to prepare for the unexpected. I feel like I’ve done my job when we land safely and I see people heading off to where they need to go and know I got them there.”

Women & Wings

Although aviation is a male dominated field, Pearson says she has experienced very little discrimination. “Working for an airline makes a difference,” she explains. “I have the airline behind me and I think that adds some respect. Sometimes, when I greet the passengers after the flight a few people will look surprised, but most give me high fives and think it’s cool that a woman was the pilot.

Once I had a passenger ask the flight attendant if I was qualified to fly the plane, but that was a rare incident. I think it’s much harder for female general aviation pilots. I’ve seen female pilots at air shows, waiting to get on the ramp, and bystanders don’t believe it’s their plane or that they are the pilot. I’ve also seen it happen at parts booths, where the women can’t get waited on because again, no one believes they are the pilot. But within the airline industry, women have gained more ground. We’re also starting to see the industry make more allowances for the fact that there are women pilots. Progress is being made with maternity leave and paternity leave and flight schedules that accommodate working moms. Right now, I don’t mind being gone a lot, but when I start a family, it will be good to have the option of day trips, like short hops from Boston to New York.”

     Pearson recently joined The Ninety-Nines: The International Organization of Women Pilots. The Ninety-Nines has been instrumental in lobbying for the rights of female pilots, encouraging women in aviation, and promoting aviation careers to girls in school through education and scholarship. The group also provides a huge base of support for female aviators around the world while honoring their unique history and sharing their passion for flight. The Ninety-Nines was established in 1929 by 99 women pilots and the organization’s first president was Amelia Earhart. Today, members of The Ninety-Nines are represented in all areas of aviation. “It’s a great group,” says Pearson. “We talk about the issues facing female pilots; if someone has a question, they’ll get a ton of information back in a flash from other members. It’s great for mentoring and hearing about job opportunities. It’s also fun to hear all the stories. There are generations of female pilots connected through The Ninety-Nines.”

     Pearson typically drives into Boston then flies to New York, which is her base. She is gone four to five days at a stretch, then is back in her Sunapee-area home for about a week. “I love the schedule. It gives me plenty of time to enjoy my other pursuits like skiing, mountain biking and hiking. To me, it’s the best of both worlds.”

Blue Skies Ahead

     When Amelia Earhart burst upon the aviation scene with her daring flights and charismatic personality, she inspired many other adventurous women to get into the cockpit and fly. The arrival of World War II in 1940 saw thousands more women take to the skies, flying with the WASPS (Women’s Army Service Pilots), and taking over domestic flight duties for men gone to war.

     But, when the war ended, most female pilots found themselves grounded as their services were no longer needed or male pilots reclaimed their spots. As America settled into peacetime, women were expected to once gain “keep the home fires burning,” and dreams of a life among the clouds evaporated. As time has passed, women have been turning their eyes to the skies once again. The military has notably seen a great expansion of female pilots, including fighter pilots, and that has triggered an increase in women in commercial aviation as well.

     Pearson is committed to getting more women involved in the career she loves. “Aviation is an industry where the opportunities are truly endless. There is nothing to stop a woman from pursuing her dreams in this field. Right now, only five percent of commercial aviators are women and in a few short years, the number of retiring male pilots is going to be significant. There are huge opportunities here for women, and the industry recognizes that. They know that women are an untapped market when it comes to the next generation of pilots.”

     Pearson reflects a moment on her journey and how far her career as already taken her. “In flight training, I tried to push myself to higher standards than those required because I felt like I was representing all women. I wanted to do as well as those who broke ground before me. I wanted to prove that I was the best aviator I could be, and maybe help push that door open a little wider for other women in this industry. As a little girl, I went to a career day and there was no one there from the aviation industry telling me that I could fly. Today, I can go to a career day and tell another little girl ‘You CAN fly.’ You can achieve whatever you want–and the sky is NOT the limit.”  *

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