The South Korean trained to be a pilot in the United States, where she also gave lessons to aspiring aerialists. Now she’s bringing her skills to Vietnamese skies. By Lien Hoang. Photo by Fred Wissink.
What brought you to Vietnam?
I’m a pilot trainee for VietJetAir. I had a couple of Vietnamese students [in the United States]. They’re very nice and very awesome students. They’re nice enough to find me somebody that knows some people in the company. It’s good, I was lucky that I have students that actually give me some good connections that I can work with, that actually gave me a good chance.
What did you do before?
I used to be a stewardess for almost three years for Qatar Airways.
You gave flight lessons, too? Why?
Just experience. You feel so happy that you finish everything and you get your license. You’re going to feel really happy because, ‘Oh, I made it.’ But it’s a little different when you see your student’s progress, pass through the check and get his licence. He’s like your product. You made him. And he passed, meaning that I also passed.
What was it like the first time you actually flew a plane?
I was all over, I was screaming. It was hell, I swear.
How did it feel?
Scary. It was only a one-hour flight but very different because what I was thinking about is, I thought an aircraft fly by itself because I saw only the airline pilots. Mostly they are cruising, engaged with the other pilots, and then airplane fly by itself because nobody touch anything. Nobody fly, so I was tricked out the first time I flew because I didn’t know what to do, I thought airplane fly by itself.
I haven’t met a lot of female pilots.
It’s like a guy’s job, male job. But I found there’s nothing wrong to be a woman in this industry. That’s what I want, that’s what I hope. All the women who have education, who’s working hard, deserve to be in the same position as guys.
What is it like in your industry in terms of gender?
It’s very tough for me. I mean, I’m not going to blame the society. I still want to work for an airline back home, I’d love to be a pilot back home flying with Korean Air, Asiana Air, these big companies but unfortunately it’s really tough for women unless we have really good connections. It’s tough. It’s really, really tough. First of all I think it’s a male society, they judge you, you’re a woman, you’re going to have a family, you’re going to get pregnant, you’re going to be gone for a year to have a baby, and that’s losing a lot of money in terms of company. So I’m not going to blame 100 percent on society. But if you see the same airline industry in United States or Canada or Europe, there’s no discrimination, there’s no judgment because you’re a woman. … I personally believe I’m not going to get married, I don’t want to have a baby, just let me fly.
Have you had any scary experiences?
A lot, especially if you’re a flight instructor, every single flight is scary. They trust you if something happens, so you have to be very vigilant and ready if something happens. You need to save his ass — my ass.
What’s a close call you’ve had?
I don’t have any problem to fly in the bad weather, but with a lot of turbulence and it’s a small airplane and it’s raining cats and dogs, like crazy raining and you see sometimes hail impacting on the windshield and then it’s getting dark because it’s about 6 or 7pm. It wasn’t fun.
What does flying feel like?
The feeling is always different. Every single flight you see the sky, the sky has a different face. I don’t know how to describe it in English, but every single flight I had a bunch of pictures I took of the sky. Sometimes it’s cloudy, rainy, and just the layer of the clouds and you fly over the clouds, like you’re looking at sheep. … Except sleeping, eating, and probably teaching the theory, I was flying, I was in the air. I’m [lacking] flying right now. I’m not depressed but I feel kind of sad because I don’t fly these days. I really need to get back up there. Whatever happens to you, the sky is always welcome.
It seems like landing is the difficult part.
Yeah, you learn how to fly in order to learn how to land, that’s what we say.
Do you ever imagine the worst-case scenario?
Of course, it always scares me, I swear to god. But I try not to think about those things when I fly because I pay attention to whatever I do. Believe it or not, if you follow the procedure, if you follow the checklist, if you just stick to the ‘Bible’, if you stick to the book, nothing’s going to happen.