I want to fly

For many years the profession of pilot was restricted to men, but nowadays more and more women are conquering the sky. Liina Rätsep from Estonia is one of twelve female pilots employed by airBaltic and one of the pioneers flying the CS300.

What sparked your interest in becoming a pilot?

As a child I always used to look up at the sky to watch the planes passing over our home. I clearly remember the day I told my dad I wanted to fly. He was supportive of my dream from the very beginning and told me that when I grew up I could fly as much as I wanted to.

It is amazing how something clicked and suddenly you had your life all figured out!

On our last day of high school my classmates and I discussed our future plans. Most of them were absolutely lost considering their options, but for me becoming a pilot was a straight-forward decision. I still have no regrets or second thoughts about my choice. I have always been kind of nerdy and goal-oriented, but my dedication got me to where I am today.

Do you remember your first flight?

I was so excited, because I had waited such a long time! And I don’t just mean that I had been waiting since childhood, but also that the weather was always postponing my first flight. I was so anxious to finally fly! One day our instructor said that today was the day. I remember how my heart was beating and my hands were shaking. When we landed, I felt like my lifelong dream was falling apart: how could I fly,if I was feeling so nervous and sick? But the instructor said that I was just being too excited and that it was normal.

Is airBaltic the first airline you worked for?

After I graduated from the Estonian Aviation Academy I started working for the Estonian Police and Border Guards. I had to go through special training, because it was completely different work than what I had done before. We mostly did visual checks of the border conditions, ambulance flights and looked for oil leaks at sea. I never knew what the next day would bring, but usually it brought another stand-by. I flew maybe 250 hours per year then. Now I’m flying between 700 and 800 hours. During that time I also started to instruct other pilots to gain more experience for myself. Flying small planes brings you back to basics.

How do you like to spend your free time, when you are not flying?

I go home to Tallinn to see my family and partner whenever I can. Flight crew schedules don’t really allow for regular activities or hobbies. My partner and I used to go swing dancing. This is something I had to leave behind when I started working in Riga, and I actually really miss it. But we dance whenever we can. We are planning to take part in the Tallinn Swing Weekend festival, which I am really looking forward to.

Considering the fact that you fly for work every day, do you enjoy travelling when you are on vacation?

I really like travelling. I try to go to the mountains once a year or skiing hikes. It lets me completely switch off from the city. Usually for the hikes we go someplace with no telephone reception and no power. It is amazing how places in wilderness can give you the most energy. When you work for an airline, travelling is such an easy thing to do.

What do you like the most about your job?

I like the responsibility—I can’t get lazy or be unprepared. I still have the same dedication I had at school. That’s what makes flying so enjoyable for me. There is not a day when I don’t want to fly. I also like that we don’t take our work home with us. It starts at check-in time, and we leave it at the checkout desk.

What’s your most memorable flight?

I don’t remember any flight in particular, but some of my colleagues like to play music on the flight deck. Whenever we are on the ground, they put on some tunes—no matter what the music is, it makes us smile and brightens the mood. It might only be for five minutes, but it gives everyone a positive energy boost, even the cabin crew and gate agents. As soon as the music starts, everyone lights up.

A female pilot is still a rare bird in the sky. Do you feel any difference in attitude towards you?

That is what I feared most when I started to work in what is considered a masculine environment. But I have never felt that I have to prove myself more, just because I am a woman. Once when we flew outside of Europe, the ground agent started to look for the pilot instead of communicating with me, because he was not used to seeing a female in the cockpit. But mostly no, I don’t feel any differences in people’s attitudes. When it comes to the airBaltic flight crew, I have never felt any special attitude towards me. My co-workers respect me as a pilot. We are here to do our job and to do it well. The only thing that matters is professionalism, not gender. That is how it should be.

It seems you are faithful to Bombardier aircraft—first the Dash Q400 and now the new CS300. How did you decide to take on such a challenge?

It wasn’t an easy decision. I flew the Dash Q400 for two years and really enjoyed it. It took me some time to get used to it, but after two years I felt I wanted to challenge myself again. The CS300 seemed like a really interesting project, so I decided to give it a go. I have been working with the CS300 for a few months now, and I absolutely love it.

What do you value the most in your colleagues?

The thing I value the most is the level of professionalism among the pilots and cabin crew. There are a lot of young people at airBaltic, so communication between crew members is easy, familiar and friendly, but also very professional. The flight crew is always taking an interest in the needs of the cabin crew and vice versa. BO