Only female pilot in Pacific Sun’s ATR fleet aims for greater heights.
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If Hartlene Raihman Yuen wasn’t a pilot, she would’ve taken up criminal or forensic psychology. But a love for flying, nurtured from a young age simply by watching in awe as planes took off and landed at Nadi airport, saw her decide to venture out in what many may consider to be a man’s world – the cockpit of an aircraft.
“I was looking for a career with a bit of a challenge to it,” she told Fiji Islands. “A lot of my friends wanted to become lawyers or doctors and I just wanted to do something different. I got a lot of encouragement from my family and while waiting for my Form 7 exam results, my parents paid for a joy flight for me in one of the Cessnas at the Pacific Flying School (in Nadi). I was hooked right there and then, so I applied with the Flying School straightaway.”
If Hartlene Raihman Yuen wasn’t a pilot, she would’ve taken up criminal or forensic psychology. But a love for flying, nurtured from a young age simply by watching in awe as planes took off and landed at Nadi airport, saw her decide to venture out in what many may consider to be a man’s world – the cockpit of an aircraft.“I was looking for a career with a bit of a challenge to it,” she told Fiji Islands. “A lot of my friends wanted to become lawyers or doctors and I just wanted to do something different. I got a lot of encouragement from my family and while waiting for my Form 7 exam results, my parents paid for a joy flight for me in one of the Cessnas at the Pacific Flying School (in Nadi). I was hooked right there and then, so I applied with the Flying School straightaway.”
Interestingly, it’s not so much her gender that gets a few eyebrows raised as she makes her PA announcements from the flight deck, but as her age. At just 25 and looking much younger than that, she’s one of the youngest pilots in Pacific Sun, Fiji’s regional airline and subsidiary of Air Pacific. She simply takes such reactions as compliments.
“Some think that I’m too young or inexperienced to fly,” she quips with a grin. “I’ve had a few passengers express surprise about me flying them to their destinations, but all worries were put to rest when they arrived safely. On the odd occasion I’ve even been asked to produce an ID card to prove that I actually fly.”
Born and raised in Suva, Yuen is one of Fiji’s own home-grown pilots, now a First Officer on the ATR-42 aircraft. She trained at the Pacific Flying School, finishing in 2006 and started out as a First Officer on the 7-seater Islander aircraft in June 2007.
“My first commercial flight was from Nadi to Malolo Island - a very short 10 minute hop across – but the longest 10 minutes of my life. I think the highlight had to be my passenger brief, I was so nervous that stumbled through it in trying hard not to forget anything. Thankfully my briefs are a lot more comprehensible now.”
Yuen then worked her way up to ranks of a First Officer on the Twin Otter aircraft. A yearning for a greater challenge at the point saw her opt to join the ATR fleet as an F/O instead of opting to command the Islander. Progression through the pilot ranks is dependent on hours flown and performance. A full ATR captain needs 3000 under his, or as in this case, her belt. Yuen is currently at around 2000 hours, and will be fully assisted in her quest to become the first full female captain of Pacific Sun’s ATR.
“We’re extremely proud of Hartlene’s achievements so far, and we’ll support all her training and professional development needs to ensure she becomes a full Captain on the ATR,” said Shaenaz Voss, General Manager of Pacific Sun. Training and continued capacity building are priority areas for Pacific Sun as a young airline,” she added. “In addition, it’s just the kind of motivation young professionals like her need to be able to achieve their career aspirations. Hartlene exemplifies the potential and professional capabilities that the people of Fiji have.”
And in a vote of confidence for her progress, Hartlene has just finished a major assignment – ferrying an ATR 42 on a 6–hour flight to Tahiti for a routine check under the supervision of a Training Captain.
Yuen doesn’t get the feeling she’s working in ‘the domain of men”, something she credits to the support she has received from her male colleagues. But there is apparently one drawback of being the only female among 22 ATR pilots.
“There’s not much chance for girl-talk on the flight deck,” she laments.
Despite her aspirations to become a full captain of the ATR, but there’s no rush for her to get onto jets just yet. The wife of an Air Pacific B737 pilot and mother of a 2-year old, Yuen loves spending every minute she can with her family. She is thankful for the Pacific Sun for the opportunities she has received.
“I owe a lot to both the company and the remarkable trainers of Pacific Sun. I am where I am today because of their continued instruction, patience and belief in me as a pilot. I started straight out of flying school, inexperienced and new to commercial flying. Pacific Sun has given me the opportunity to live my dream and pay me at the same time.”
Yuen recommends flying as a career for anyone considering it.
“My favorite part of the job is watching the sun rise and set. It’s not something that everyone gets to do; you don’t sit in an office everyday and see the same people, you have the best office in the world - the sky, and every day is different. The aircraft changes, the weather changes, you fly with different crew, so the job is exciting. The company gives you travel benefits and this allows you to see different countries. You get to witness the world from a totally different perspective. Believe me, looking down on mountain ranges 10,000 feet above the ground is absolutely breathtaking.”
And for those still thinking flying is a ‘guy thing’, she has this to add.
“Flying isn’t based on physical strength as much as it is on mental and physical coordination. I would encourage any young lady wanting to pursue a career as a pilot to go for it. If you do come up against negative attitudes about you being a female, let your actions speak for themselves and prove to them that it’s not just ‘a man’s world’. Harriet Quimby, just prior to her flight across the English Channel in 1912 said “I was annoyed from the start by the attitude of doubt by the spectators that I would never really make the flight. This attitude made me more determined than ever to succeed”. Her stoicism is motivational.”
It is this sort of resolve that has seen Hartlene Yuen’s career soar – literally.