We have so many great examples of women who have joined the aviation industry with no fear of being in the male-dominant market. To mark #WomenInAviation week, BAA Training is publishing a special edition of interviews of our brave women who definitely can be role models for aviation enthusiasts and aspiring pilots. Naya Khankan, a 28 years old young lady born and raised in Denmark, is a perfect example of how a woman’s clear vision, persistence, and determination can help her move mountains and achieve greatness in her career.
How it started
What is your aviation background?
I completed my high school diploma in 2011. To further excel in my studies, I was enrolled in post-secondary education at the University of Copenhagen to pursue my Landscape Architect & Urban Design degree. Upon successfully graduating from my program, I started my flight training in a Pilot academy in Denmark.
I graduated as a Commercial Pilot in 2016 and joined The Air Force Home Guard as a Mission System Operator (MSO). During this time, I also managed to work with SAR, Search and Rescue. The duties included securing airports, aerial environmental patrols of National waters, reporting threats/activities in air, ground, and water. Nonetheless, I still managed to create a work-study balance and enrolled myself at a flight academy in Hungary to complete the flight instructor’s rating. Once I completed it, I started to work as a PPL and CPL flight instructor with night rating qualifications. The job position also included lecturing ATPL classes due to my core specialty in the content of ‘Air Law.’
When was the first time you thought: “It’s decided – I want to be a pilot! “?
I was not thinking about becoming a pilot until later. I have secretly always been attracted to aviation and the imagined adventure of being above the sky. So my first thought was to become an astronaut. That did not happen, but during my time in high school, I was lucky enough to have a close friend that has a dad in the field – he was a captain. I got the opportunity to join him at work flying from country to country and fly small aircraft with his family, fulfilling my desire. Since then, I have wanted to become a pilot. Of course, it was not easy, but that is a different story.
Working as an instructor
What encouraged you to start working as an instructor eventually, and what do you like most about this occupation?
Backtracking to my student pilot years, it came to my attention that many flight instructor’s indelible judgments would negatively impact the students. The purpose of a training phase is to train students to correct their mistakes and enhance piloting skills by providing students with various educational tools, one-on-one tutoring, and implementing strategic methods to aid students’ educational journeys. Students facing challenges in their training were labeled as wrong candidates for aviation from the training academy and instructor’s perspective.
Instead, those specific students should be rather handled with care, showing positivity, providing extra support to build skills and motivational talks to help them successfully graduate as proficient pilots. Differentiating students in terms of weaker skill levels creates unfairness for students as it lowers self-confidence and affects their mental state.
After experiencing the problematic scenarios, I realized that I wasn’t just born to fly. I felt the need to make a difference, create an impact in students’ lives, support and motivate them to work towards their goals even when faced with incremental challenges. Most importantly, my interest lies in the contribution of enriching the process of producing prospective aviators. Hence, the decision to become an instructor. The happiness and satisfaction in students’ faces after a flight is most likable for me in this occupation. When a student states, “I never knew how to do it before, but now I know,” I feel jubilant. Their statement is a living example of me carrying out my job in an adequate manner.
Working at BAA Training
What do you like most about working at BAA Training academy and why?
The ability to fly a lot and gain a huge number of hours provides the most likeability while working at BAA Training academy. Flying tremendously keeps me on my feet, intensifies the growth of hours, and improves my instructor skills. The workplace is constantly evolving, which creates many new experiences, such as ferry flight across Europe. This leads to shifting bases and generating great opportunities to explore new cities within the vicinity of Europe. Besides, the team in the BAA Training academy is brilliant. In this academy, every team starting from instructors, operations, logistics, and management, is very supportive inside and out by acting as a family, which is highly valuable.
What kind of challenges are you facing in your job? Don’t they decrease motivation to move forward in the same direction?
Generally, pilot instructors tend to face numerous challenges. We are the sole feedback source for students after the end of each flight. The final decision about the quality of student’s skill in flight remains with us. Being able to portray the news that the flight session was not up to standard and strategize and adapt to individual students with flexible learning methods may come with great challenges.
Besides being a female in this industry of aviation, I have faced a lot of difficulties. Students rejected to fly with me due to the superstitious believes of aviation being a manly career. Furthermore, students were hesitant due to my young age, questioned my skillsets and position of being a flight instructor. I have been judged not only because I’m a woman in a man dominating industry but also because I wish to keep my feminine touch. Unfortunately, if a woman takes care of her beauty, she is more likely to be judged negatively. Most often, these challenges create a deficit in motivation.
Nevertheless, I feel the urge and confidence to tackle all the obstacles. It elicits my motivation to stay on top, improve my skill set, achieve even higher goals to modify this society’s norm, and open doors to prospective female aviators. A winner only solves the problem.
Motivations and motivators
Who is your biggest supporter, and where do you get your motivation from?
My biggest supporter is my parents. They have always encouraged me, believed in me, and pushed me to achieve my goals even when I lost self-confidence. Without them, I would not have been where I am today. They are my main source of motivation.
How did your parents react to your decision to pursue a pilot career?
In the beginning, my parents were not happy about the decision. They were objecting to the choice of my career as it was not a university degree. Therefore, I pursued my undergraduate degree at the University of Copenhagen, majoring in Architecture and Urban design. Upon graduation, I fell right back in the path of following my dream to become a pilot. From then on, my parents accepted my decision and supported me all the way till the end of my journey. Looking back in time, it was a great choice to complete my degree. The time at university made me grow as a person, enriched numerous skills, allowed me to gain a strong educational background, created stability, shaped me to tackle real-life situations, and provided an exceptional experience. I advise anyone to pursue post-secondary education.
How do you imagine your future in the aviation field?
I look forward to retiring as Captain in the upcoming decades for one of the most prominent global airlines such as Emirates or Etihad Airlines. Before reaching that level, I imagine myself working for businesses flying private jets. This will allow me to be on constant move flying from one country to another, live in a hotel, explore new cities, and discover the next destination as a surprise.
Thoughts and feelings
In your opinion, does aviation need more women, and why? What can be done to attract more women to aviation?
Our society has predefined stereotypes! Even though the calendar today writes 2021, most people associate a pilot with an elderly man sitting in the cockpit. The keyword is a man. In movies, pilots are played by men; in commercials, we always see men as pilots.
Therefore, to attract more women to aviation, the imprinted and heavily stereotyped image of pilots in today’s society should change. More women in aviation should be showed off and acknowledged. These are role models and inspire other women to join. More awareness is needed.
What is your favorite movie or a book related to women in aviation and/or famous pilots?
We all know about Amy Johnson from 1930, who traveled from London to Australia on a single-engine plane, leaving behind a clear message to all the world’s women.
Afterwards, Amanda Harrison wanted to bring the same experience and experiment on a DH82a De Havilland Tiger Moth in 1943. Her story inspired me deeply. Despite all the obstacles, sickness, battles, and failures, she kept fighting and became a commercial pilot. Nothing stopped her or held her back from proceeding with her dreams.
What would you advise a girl who dreams of becoming a pilot but is puzzled because this path seems to be just too drastic?
Just go for it and follow your dreams as you would with anything else in life. Don’t give up and fight through all the obstacles. Remember, dreams become a reality only when you act on executing the steps required to achieve them! Or else you will live the rest of your life vicariously. You decide…