When the VS94 from Cancun pulled onto stand at Gatwick at 10:30 this morning it marked the end of a remarkable career. After 27 years of flying the Boeing 747, Captain Yvonne Kershaw is hanging up her wings.
Having first caught the flying bug when she learnt to fly at the age of 19, Yvonne went on to spend time flying light aircraft around Europe and North Africa before gaining her commercial licence and moving on to flying executive jets. After a spell at another airline flying the MD83, she decided it was time to apply for her dream job – flying the Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747.
Back in 1990, when Yvonne joined us, we only had a handful of aircraft and were soon to start flights from Gatwick to Los Angeles (we didn’t operate from Heathrow back then). Three years later Yvonne gained her command and became the first female 747 Captain in the United Kingdom. She has since clocked up over 2,000 flights totalling 18,000 flying hours in the flight deck of the 455 seaters, 177-tonne aircraft which has long been a favourite for pilots.
Yvonne cites her career highlight as becoming one of a select group of training captains to train pilots to become captains on the 747 fleet. Yvonne has also been invited to attend and speak at numerous events championing the development and recognition of women in leadership including the Women of the Year lunch which honours the most outstanding women in the country in their chosen fields. Other career highlights include flying Richard Branson around the network as well as meeting Sully Sullenberger onboard a Virgin Atlantic flight.
The last flight
Retiring captains are traditionally allowed to choose their final flight and crew. Yvonne chose Cancun in Mexico and admits to having a tear in her eye as she got off the aircraft having been thoroughly spoiled by her crew and the teams at both Gatwick and Cancun (the whole trip involved five different retirement cakes!).
The Boeing 747
Yvonne speaks very highly of the Boeing 747 which she has flown for her entire Virgin Atlantic career. “I felt very proud that I was able to do it,” she said. “It’s such an iconic aeroplane and it’s what I wanted to fly. For decades it was the largest aircraft in the world and the most loved by everybody. That’s why I joined Virgin Atlantic. For the opportunity to fly the aeroplane and be part of the Virgin family.”
Talking before her last flight Captain Kershaw said;
“It has been a privilege to fly the flag for female captains over the past 24 years. After overcoming traditional gender stereotypes, I’ve been humbled to act as a role model for young aspiring female pilots. After being in the driving seat of the world’s most iconic aircraft for so many years, it will be an odd feeling to board as a holiday maker. It’ll be odd to be a backseat pilot; I’ll have to stop myself giving the captain a few tips.”
Yvonne’s boss, Captain Dave Kistruck, Vice President of Airline Operations said;
“I’ll be sad not to see Yvonne on the flight deck anymore, but she leaves behind a legacy for all our future pilots. Having broken into a traditionally male dominated industry in the 1990s Yvonne is proof that you can smash glass ceilings and challenge archaic stereotypes. With Yvonne and her pioneering colleagues coming to retirement age, we’re investing in our future pilots through the pilot cadet scheme. So far 30% of our cadets have been women, and we encourage people from all backgrounds to apply.”
Industry figures suggest that around 4% of UK pilots are female. Virgin Atlantic is working hard to challenge the stereotype that being a pilot is a job just for men. Following in the footsteps of Yvonne, 30% of Virgin Atlantic’s pilot cadets are women. Anyone can apply to become a pilot cadet with no flying experience necessary. And the airline is currently recruiting for first officers. Visit http://careersuk.virgin-atlantic.com/ for more information.