Iris featured in ITV’s second series of “easyJet: Inside the Cockpit” in 2019 – a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary. Flight deck cameras recorded pilots round the clock as they flew the distinctive orange and white Airbus A319/20/21s across Europe. Since its launch in 1995, easyJet has defied expectations, and is now Britain’s biggest airline, carrying nearly 90 million passengers per year. It’s leading in other ways too.
As we head into the 2020’s it’s surprising that just 5% of all pilots globally are women. That’s changing though, and thankfully the sight of a female pilot is much more frequent. easyJet has covered significant ground in recent years, and 12% of all pilots in the airline are women. They’ve set a more ambitious 20% target for 2020 and are quietly confident this will be met. There’s a definite feeling that the only way is up, and current female pilots are getting out there to inspire new generations, even inviting a group of Brownies on board.
“easyjet: Inside the Cockpit” featured both men and women, including Senior First Officer (now Captain) Iris de Kan. The series followed her journey from the right seat to the left, as she took her command course to become a Captain and earn her fourth stripe.
Her genuine and down to earth nature was compelling, as was her honesty while we watched Iris face challenges during training sessions in the flight simulator. A mum of one to a little girl, Kiki, Iris’ appearance did a magical thing. It made the role of a pilot feel relatable and within reach for those who might have thought it wasn’t accessible for them.
Here, Iris shares her story from watching planes fly over her garden as a little girl growing up in Holland, to being the pilot in command at the controls of an A320.
Over to you, Iris.
When did you know you wanted to become a pilot?
When I was little, my Dad would often fly above our house as a passenger in a Dutch Dakota (DC 3 Dakota). I loved watching him pass over, and from the age of six I knew I wanted to fly.
Did you, or do you have a role model/mentor?
No, as I didn’t really know any pilots or people within the aviation industry. I had to be my own inspiration and have the self-belief to turn my dream into reality. My parents have always been hugely supportive though, and this made a big difference.
What was your route into flying?
Once I left school, I went straight to flying school. For the first year I was based in the Netherlands grafting away at ground school. Copious exams later, I took to the skies over Portugal for the second year, which was mainly spent at the controls of small aircraft.
When did you first go solo? What was the aircraft, and what did it feel like?
I went solo quite soon into the second year of flying school and had a wonderful instructor called Marissa. Prior to my first solo flight, I flew many circuits, doing touch and goes. My training took place in a Socata Tobago 200. A lot of people say their first solo flight was incredible – well, I was absolutely terrified!! I much prefer big planes.
What was the most challenging part of becoming a pilot?
The most challenging thing for me was having enough faith and self-belief in myself to do it. The learning curve is steep – not just in terms of absorbing information, but developing as a person too. For instance, it took me a little while to learn that it’s OK to ask for help, and is actually a skill to know when you need to seek it.
Can you give an overview of your flying career so far, including the planes you’ve flown?
I was very fortunate to leave flying school and get my first job two months later. This often isn’t the case for many pilots. I moved to Sitges near Barcelona, and became a first officer for Denim Air, flying the Dash 8 Q300. It was fantastic – much of the flying involved island hopping.
Two years later the airline sadly folded, so I moved to Athens and started flying for Olympic Air. The culture was very different to what I was used to. It was very unusual to see a female pilot at all in Greece, so that took a bit of getting used to. I had to dig deep for resilience sometimes as it took longer to win people’s respect – it shouldn’t have, but it was worth it. I flew with Olympic for 5 years on the Dash 8 Q400 and then on the Dash 8 Q100. I was also the face of Olympic Air.
Then, one day I saw that easyJet was recruiting for experienced pilots. I was excited about this possibility as the airline didn’t advertise for established pilots that often. It was an airline that I was keen to join, and was also closer to home and family, so I applied and went through the assessments and sim assessments and was thrilled to get the job.
I have been with easyJet for five years flying out of London Gatwick on the A320, and I couldn’t be happier. Earlier this year, I became a Captain, and parts of my command training were caught on ITV’s “easyJet: Inside the Cockpit”.
Congratulations on becoming a captain this year. How is life in the left-hand seat so far?
Thank you so much! It’s just fantastic! I love being able to set the tone of the day for our amazing team in the air each time we fly. I want both the crew and passengers to have the best day possible, so I’m always encouraging openness and feedback – as well as a bit of fun!
What are your flying goals for the future?
I love what I’m doing right now – Gatwick is such a great base too. It’s about work-life balance as I’m also a mum to little Kiki who is almost three years old. I have a good balance and that makes me very happy. In the future though, I would definitely consider becoming a Training Captain.
The nation watched you working towards your command on ITV’s “easyJet:Inside the Cockpit”. What was it like to have cameras in the flight deck?
It was great fun! To be honest, you forget the cameras are there, so what you see really is what you get! I believe in always staying very true to who you are, which is what I think I did. I wanted to be a positive role model for others too, and maybe even inspire someone to choose a career in flying.
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to be a pilot?
Believe in yourself – very few people are God’s gift to flying. Most people have to work really hard to get their wings. Never give up – ever. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, because you can. Never give up on your dream.
Do you have specific advice to women wanting to pursue a career in aviation?
I would give the same advice as above and think it’s important to remember there’s no difference between you or anyone else. Flight crew are one team working towards the same goals.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I don’t have to sit in an office, and I have a new view from the window every day. No matter how many times I fly a plane, and despite knowing the technical stuff inside out, I am always in awe that such a massive machine can lift off the ground. I just love flying these incredible planes across Europe.
What’s the most challenging element of your job?
Not being in an office! I would say it’s the shift work. You can’t turn up tired and have to be 100% on your game at all times, which means getting lots of rest, and looking after yourself.
Take-off or landing?
Dream airport as a pilot?
Croatia – for the view.
Favourite destination for a break?
Barcelona for a city break, and Menorca for a beach getaway.
Favourite plane of all-time?
The Dash 8 Q400 – it’s like a mini Airbus.
The best thing about flying is……
Being at the controls of such an incredible flying machine – the novelty never goes.
Iris, thank you for your time and sharing an insight into your life as a pilot. If Iris has inspried you to consider a career in the clouds, there’s lots of information about becoming a pilot on the easyJet website. There are many preconceptions about the requirements needed, with a lot of people thinking you need A Levels or a university degree. This is not the case, so if this is your dream waiting to happen, take a look. As Iris says, focus on your dream and believe in yourself.