Christine Ourmières -Widener, Flybe CEO

Christine Ourmières -Widener, Flybe CEO

Sets out the airline’s gender equality initiative, FlyShe

Insight meets the UK’s only female airline Chief Executive, Christine Ourmières-Widener. 

Now eighteen months into her role at Flybe, Christine, recognising that skills shortages in the airline industry, has launched FlyShe.  The initiative is designed to inspire young girls and women to consider a wide range of careers in the aviation industry, including piloting, engineering and leadership in a bid to both meet the challenge of forecast double digit growth and to increase the representation of women.

The programme aims to inspire by giving a platform to women working in the industry to talk about their work and experiences, while simultaneously encouraging young people, and their parents, to follow these real-life role models.  Christine said: “Aviation is still very much a male-dominated industry.  There are many reasons for this gender imbalance, but the main one is that the pipeline of female talent in engineering and piloting is simply not there.”

Famously, Christine herself is the UK’s only female airline CEO and came into the industry as an engineer. She merits her ambition on her parents’ vision for her future.  She said: “my mother was adamant that my sisters and I should be equipped to become financially independent as soon as possible.  It was unequivocal for her and something that I have passed down to my own children.”

Today, a major part of Flybe’s operation in Exeter is the Flybe Training Academy. The £13 million building, complete with simulator facilities for pilot and cabin crew training, opened in 2011.  Working in close partnership with Exeter College, the most successful programme to come from the partnership is the four-year Flybe Diploma in Engineering which has been running since 2008 and which nearly 200 students have completed.  Together the two organisations have also launched an Aircraft Maintenance Apprenticeship in September 2018, with Exeter College delivering the theoretical elements and the Flybe maintenance department delivering the practical elements, all within the Training Academy.

Christine said: “we have an ambitious training plan at Flybe, and the Academy is an amazing tool and asset for training pilots and engineers.  It is also open to local business to come and use - trying their hands at controlling the flight simulators as part of a team building exercise for example.”

Aware of the Flybe Group’s position as a key part of the region’s business and leisure offering and as major employer, the Flybe Group under Christine’s leadership would like to build closer relationships with businesses in the area, working together to improve the region’s infrastructure and transport links globally and nationally.   Christine said: “we have brilliant relationships with the City, District and County Councils and the Science Park centre: we need to continue to work together as a team to further improve the infrastructure – the roads, a rail connection, public transport options, faster internet connections – in order to compete more effectively with other regional airports and to offer the region the best service.” 

While the airline currently operates 204 routes serving 15 countries from 80 departure points, with 20 routes from Exeter, Christine sees growing Exeter’s profile as a destination as vital.  “There is great opportunity to bring more people into the South West from all over the world, through Exeter International Airport.  Exeter’s growing science and tech community is at the core of this, as are visitors, academics and students, heading for the University.  In leisure, Exeter is the ideal destination for tourists looking to explore the South West and the rest of the UK.  We need to work with the private and public sector to maximise these opportunities.”

For the airline, the region and for young women, all over the world, Christine is ambitious, she explains: “Forty-one per cent of Flybe’s workforce is now female with women in every role from apprenticeship to the boardroom.  Whilst the majority still comprises cabin crew, there are increasing numbers across all other areas of the business, including pilots and engineers.

“We cannot ignore the fact that the research indicates that nearly one in five girls believe there are jobs they cannot do and I firmly believe that young women cannot be what they cannot see. Through FlyShe, we are committed to showing women they can fly high – whatever it is they want to do.”

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