Pioneering female pilot takes to the air with pride

Huang He (center), a pilot at Air China, coaches trainees in a simulator. [Photo/China Daily]

Life is filled with pivotal moments, each capable of steering a person onto a completely different path.

For Huang He, one such moment arrived when her school’s dean informed her about a female pilot recruitment advertisement in a newspaper in 2003. Seizing this opportunity, she embarked on a journey that would change her life forever.

“I entered this industry (to become a pilot) by accident. At the time, I was a sophomore at Tianjin Normal University, majoring in computer science. One day, my dean mentioned that he thought I fit all the requirements listed in the newspaper for hiring a pilot and encouraged me to give it a try. I applied, passed all the tests, and have been a pilot ever since. I completely stumbled into this career,” the 42-year-old said.

In 2003, Air China, one of China’s largest airline companies and the national flag carrier, began recruiting pilots from among college students, breaking gender barriers by hiring male as well as female candidates.

The selection process was highly competitive, involving physical examinations, written tests and multiple rounds of interviews. Huang remembered sitting in a vast auditorium filled with hundreds of dreamers aspiring to soar through the skies.

Out of over 500 female applicants in 2003, only three successfully navigated the rigorous tests and secured the opportunity to become pilot trainees.

Huang transferred to Civil Aviation University of China in Tianjin to begin her pilot training, a customary process in China by which airline companies collaborate with universities to train and nurture aspiring pilots.

Joining Air China as a trainee pilot in 2005, she became one of the company’s first female pilots and achieved the rank of captain by 2011.

As of the end of last year, only 843 female pilots held commercial flight licenses, according to the Annual Report of Chinese Civil Aviation Pilot Development 2023. This figure pales in comparison with the total number of pilots in China’s airline companies, which stood at 57,854 by the end of 2022.

China’s homegrown airship AS700 completes first trial flight in Hubei Province

The AS700 Xiangyun airship Photo: Courtesy of the Special Vehicle Research Institute under the Aviation Industry Corporation of China

The AS700 “Xiangyun” airship Photo: Courtesy of the Special Vehicle Research Institute under the Aviation Industry Corporation of China

China’s first self-developed civil airship, the AS700 “Xiangyun”, completed its first trial flight between two airports in Central China’s Hubei Province, laying a foundation for further long-distance test and commercial operation in assisting the development of low-altitude economy. 

On Saturday, the AS700 took off from an airport in Jingmen, and completed a 180-kilometer-round flight, stopping at an airport in Jingzhou city, with a total flight hour of more than three hours, the Special Vehicle Research Institute under the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the developer of the airship, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

Zhou Lei, chief engineer for the AS700 research program, said that the trial flight verified AS700’s functions of air-ground communication, loaded equipment, and take-off and landing in different places. 

“The trial flight also tested the capabilities for maintenance and research teams, which provided experience for trail flights with longer distance and duration times in future,” Zhou said. 

The AS700 airship can carry up to 10 people on board, including the pilot. It has a maximum take-off weight of 4,150 kilograms, a longest flight range of 700 kilometers, a maximum endurance of 10 hours, and a top speed of 100 kilometers per hour. 

The Government Work Report of 2024 approved during the two sessions in March stated that China will foster new growth engines such as the low-altitude economy. Observers said the AS700 airship may embrace good development opportunities. 

In December 2023, the Civil Aviation Administration of China issued an airship type certificate for the AS700. 

“Some tourism platforms and tourists sites in China have contacted us to discuss future collaboration. We have received 20 intention orders AS700 and the first one is estimated to be delivered as the end of this year,” said Du Wei, program manager of AS700 airship, noting that it will be used in emergency rescue and urban public services, in order to boost the development of the low-altitude economy. 

Global Times