London - Just a decade after taking to the skies as an air cadet, Kate McWilliams has proved she is a real high flier – by becoming the world’s youngest commercial airline captain at just 26.
And if the passengers who quiz her think she looks a bit young to be flying an EasyJet Airbus, they should have seen her co-pilot on a flight to Malta last week – 19-year-old Luke Elsworth, the UK’s youngest pilot.
But for Miss McWilliams, who is based in Gatwick Airport, becoming a pilot has been a dream since joining the air cadets aged 13 which saw her flying loop-the-loops at 15 and beginning a pilot training programme on her 19th birthday.
While just five percent of commercial pilots are female and few get promoted beyond the rank of first officer – a feat usually achieved by much older pilots – the lack of role models never hindered Miss McWilliams. She said: “I don’t think my age matters. I’ve been through the same training and passed the same command course as every other captain, so I’ve proven myself capable.
“When I tell them I’m 26, most people are pleasantly surprised and impressed with my achievement at such a young age.”
She joined EasyJet as a first officer, or co-pilot, in 2011, and said although she gets quizzed about her age almost every day most people are impressed by how she has managed to fast-track her way to command in the cockpit.
Miss McWilliams, who is originally from Carlisle, flies Airbus A319 and A320 planes – the same as Mr Elsworth – to around 100 destinations. She said: “I rarely fly to the same place twice in the same month. That keeps things interesting. I love being a pilot and I am proud I have now achieved my ambition of becoming a captain.”
Julie Westhorp, chairperson of the British Women Pilots’ Association, said: “Kate is an excellent role model for other females.”