With the rising trend of female empowerment among organisations, AirAsia became the first airline in the Southeast Asian aviation industry to open up their pilot programme to females.
AirAsia introduces their first female pilot on the Thai AirAsia X team – Suwapich Wongwiriyawanich, also known to many as Captain Windy. Other than being a pilot, Captain Windy is also a certified fitness instructor and nutritionist where she co-owns her very own fitness studio in Bangkok, Viva Yoga.
LadyBoss took the opportunity to have a chat with Captain Windy where she shared her journey towards achieving her dream career as a pilot while being a fitness instructor and an entrepreneur at the same time.
Being a pilot is my childhood dream and being able to wake up every day and do a job I love is a privilege.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: My name is Suwapich Wongwiriyawanich, but everyone calls me Windy. I am a pilot, a certified fitness instructor and nutritionist. I’m also a dog lover – with three chihuahuas at home and I enjoy spending time with them. Dogs are truly man’s best friend. When I come back from a flight, they greet me with their wagging tails and at once all feelings of tiredness disappear.
Q: What inspired you to pursue the pilot programme in the Aviation Industry?
A: I grew up near the airport and have always wanted to work on a plane. After completing my Master’s degree in Psychology, I started to pursue my dream of working in the Aviation industry. I started out as a cabin crew before joining AirAsia’s student pilot programme in 2005 and have been flying with AirAsia ever since.
Q: Walk us through a typical work week of a pilot.
A: A typical week of a pilot isn’t like a typical desk-bound 9-5 job, sometimes you have late night flights and sometimes the flight starts early in the morning. I normally fly 5-6 flights a month depending on my assigned schedule.
When I’m not flying, I spend my free time teaching my peers and aspiring pilots in the AirAsia “CRM”, also known as Crew Resource Management programme. I use my experience and knowledge to teach the students in my class to manage situations and make decisions on the plane.
Q: Share with us about your first flight as a pilot. How did you feel then?
A: I can’t remember it because it has been quite long ago, more than 10 years. But I do remember that there’s so much to do and learn and I didn’t have to feel nervous.
Q: With so many hours spent in the air, share with us the funniest moment you experienced while you were flying.
A: There’s nothing particularly funny but I recall one time when the cabin crew told me that a passenger said he knew me and that we’re friends and he asked for an upgrade. But it turns out that I have never met him before in my life. Well, I think that’s funny.
Q: Tell us about the challenges you face along the way and how you cope with them.
A: I think the biggest challenge was when there were very limited opportunities for women in the Pilot programme throughout the Aviation industry. Back then, there were no opportunities for me to even prove that I had what it takes to be a pilot. When AirAsia opened up the intake to women in this region, I felt like a significant milestone was achieved for all women who aspire to be pilots, and not just myself.
I learn that if you want something, you need to work really hard to earn it. Maybe it takes time, but eventually, all your hard work will pay off.
Q: What has been your career highlight(s) so far?
A: The most unforgettable experience for me as a pilot was when I had to divert the aircraft I was flying because a passenger had suffered from a heart attack on board. The cabin crew had called for a doctor but there were no doctors on board. Three nurses who were present assisted the sick passenger but his condition continued to worsen. The purser relayed to me the advice of the nurses – that the passenger required immediate medical attention or he may die. I made the decision to divert the flight, forcing myself to fly through a thunderstorm. I was under a lot of pressure during that flight but I am glad to have saved a person’s life.
Q: How many female pilots are there in Thailand?
A: Currently there are 38 Female Pilots and First Officers in AirAsia Thailand.
Q: How does it feel like to be the first female pilot on the Thai AirAsia X team?
A: I feel proud to be chosen as one of the pioneers in the Thai AirAsia X team. It’s not about being female or male but it’s really about you being given the opportunity to prove your capabilities. Being a pilot is my childhood dream and being able to wake up every day and do a job I love is a privilege. While it is not a common career choice for women but my male colleagues don’t treat me any different and, in fact, see me for my capabilities and my contribution to the team.
Q: Aside from being the first female pilot on Thai AirAsia X, we also heard that you co-own a fitness studio in Bangkok. Tell us about this business and how long you have been doing it.
A: It’s a Yoga studio and it has been in business for 5 years now. I’m teaching Yoga and Pilates there once a week. I got my Yoga and Pilates instructor certificate while I was flying also. Yoga really helps to stay healthy and I want to pass on these blessings that’s why I want to be a good Yoga teacher to teach proper knowledge and provide safety instructions in order to advocate good health to others.
Q: What is your strategy to manage your business, pilot career and personal life at the same time?
A: The most important thing is to know how to manage your time. Know your priorities, and do whatever is most important and set some time to do other things. A schedule book works for me.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learnt thus far?
A: I learn that if you want something, you need to work really hard to earn it. Maybe it takes time, but eventually, all your hard work will pay off. Moreover, I learn that life has many obstacles, my life was never smooth. But each time I pass a difficult challenge, I feel stronger and wiser.
Q: What are your aspirations beyond your current pilot career?
A: I see my job as an extension of myself and I take great pride in my work. I believe the health of mind, body and spirit is very important in order to perform my responsibilities to the best of my abilities. I obtained a certificate in nutrition and yoga to maintain a healthy body and mind. I believe health is the most important aspect of life. With good health, everything else can be achieved.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring women pilots?
A: If being a pilot is really what you wanted to do, then find a way to make it happen. Try very hard and push yourself beyond limits. And even though you fail, at least you won’t regret as you’ve done your best.