More women set to soar under Qantas plan

Qantas captain Debbie Slade says more girls and women should be encouraged to become aviators. (AAP)

Qantas pilot Debbie Slade says more girls should be encouraged to become pilots if the Australian airline is to meet its ambitious target for female aviators.

For almost 30 years Debbie Slade has been turning heads simply by showing up to work.

Ms Slade says when she started as a pilot with Qantas in 1989 - aged in her early 20s - she was one of Australia's first dozen female commercial pilots.

Her entrance test included a psychological exam aimed squarely at men.

"One of the questions asked was if I prefer tall women and I'm like 'well, I am one, so yes I think so'," Ms Slade told AAP.

Now a Qantas fleet safety captain flying Airbus A330s, Ms Slade is one of about 250 female pilots in the airline's pool of 4000 pilots.

She's flown with a female co-pilot several times and it's "always a show-stopper walking through the terminal together".

"We pull up to the gate and the engineer plugs in downstairs and we park the brakes and they go 'evening gents' and I go 'hi there, how are you'," Ms Slade said.

Despite battling stereotypes, Ms Slade says she had a very good run as a woman entering the industry.

"I grew up with a very supportive family ... and my philosophy was, if you're professional and do your job professionally you'll be accepted, and I always was," she said.

Her career has had hurdles, such as returning to work after maternity leave and having to juggle job and family demands.

Better support is still needed within the industry to address these issues, Ms Slade said.

Qantas has set an ambitious target of women making up at least 40 per cent of its pilot intake within the next decade, under the airline's Nancy Bird Walton initiative.

Qantas chief Alan Joyce hopes that one day that every second flight will have a female voice coming from the cockpit.

Ms Slade said more women and girls should be encouraged to become pilots if the airline was to meet these targets.

"For a while, we're going to have to push the bias towards the girls to start that ball rolling, and it's not without controversy as well, we get the 'special treatment' conversations and so you've got to be prepared to talk to those."

Source AAP

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