March is National Women’s History Month! In celebration, we sat down to explore the history of one of the important women of RAI Jets, the Captain of our King Air B200, Ashley Pratt. Here’s what she had to say about her history with aviation and the opportunities available for women in the industry.
How long have you been with RAI Jets? What do you do there?
I am a Captain for RAI Jet’s King Air B200. In October, I will celebrate my second anniversary at RAI Jets.
How did you get started in aviation?
I was in my second year at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and preparing to transfer to Western Michigan University. A friend of mine asked me to go on a road trip to take a discovery flight. For $200, they would take us up in an airplane for a short flight. Once I was up in the clouds, I was instantly hooked and started thinking about how to become a pilot.
Did you then study aviation at Western?
Yes! WMU had a strong flight program, and I liked that I could earn my bachelor’s degree and pursue flight simultaneously.
What did you think of the program?
A lot of work and dedication goes into becoming a pilot. It was one thing to love flying, but another to study all about combustion engines and electric systems! It was challenging, but I realized the importance of having the background to troubleshoot anything that happens with the airplane in flight. I liked Western’s program because I could earn my private pilot license, instrument, commercial, and multi-engine there. I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in flight science.
Did you start flying as a pilot right away?
Nope. About the time I graduated, I was pregnant with my first child. You also need 1,500 flight hours to become a Captain at RAI Jets, which I didn’t have yet. Later, after I had my son, I returned to school with a scholarship to become a flight instructor at WMU. I worked there for three years before I joined RAI Jets as a second-in-command. I became an official Captain nine months later.
How does your career fit into your life as a busy mom?
As a charter pilot, I usually have several nights away from home at a time and then days off. I am also gone for several days for training and recertification on the aircraft I fly. It has been an adjustment, but it makes the times together all the more special.
Would you recommend aviation as a career for women?
Aviation is a great career for women if you have a passion for it. In my class at WMU, maybe 25 percent were women. We were all breaking barriers for other women. Aviation is also empowering; I like to know I can fly an airplane and get passengers where they need to go in safety and comfort, even when the plan goes awry. For example, one time I could not land at a scheduled airport with my customers because the cloud ceiling was too low. I was responsible for diverting the aircraft, landing at another nearby airport, and ultimately arranging ground transportation to get my passengers to their destination another way. It was satisfying to know I could handle the unexpected.
Do you think your children will follow in your footsteps?
My kids are six and nine years old now. My nine-year-old thinks what I do is pretty cool, but she’s an aspiring artist right now. I took my son to the airport when he was younger and didn’t appreciate the loud noises and commotion! We’ll see what they think later on.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Even though I don’t choose my destination, I get to travel and see incredible, fun places. I particularly enjoy my trips to Nashville, New York City, and Colorado. It’s fun to leave Kalamazoo and be someplace with a completely different climate and landscape just hours later. I also take advantage of all the tourist stuff and experience the fun in each place.
What do you like about working at RAI Jets?
I enjoy working with fun, knowledgeable people at RAI and interesting passengers onboard each flight. It would be very easy for the pilots and staff to feel disconnected from each other, but RAI Jets plans social outings for us and keeps everyone in communication.
What is your advice to young women who want to become pilots?
Follow your passion! Many pilots I meet came from an aviation background—they had someone in their family who inspired them. That was not the case with me. But I had a passion for it, and I just kept going. If you want it too, you can make it happen!
If aviation is your passion too and you are an experienced aviation professional interested in joining the team at RAI Jets, reach out to us to learn more.