Did you know who St. Lucia’s first female pilot is? Well she is Captain Elizabeth Jennings Clark and St. Lucia News Online had a one-to-one interview with her.
SNO: Who is Elizabeth?
CAPTAIN LIZ: Well actually, I am Liz the twin of Sarah George (formerly of Fisheries) and the eldest daughter of Geoffrey Jennings Clark formerly of M&C Insurance and his wife Mary. I am also big sister to Finola Prescott of CDF.
SNO: What schools did you attend?
CAPTAIN LIZ: Subsequent to arriving in Saint Lucia (on the Geest Bay banana boat after 10 days at sea at seven years old I attended Tapion Primary School. By then, we decided as a family that we would stay here. After Tapion I went to St. Joseph’s Convent (1973-78) and then to the “A” Level College from 1978-80.
SNO: Why did you choose that career and who or what inspired you?
CAPTAIN LIZ: I wanted to fly from around 12 years old. Maybe living on Vigie the first three years helped – the colorful BAC 1-11’s from Courtline (the predecessor to LIAT) shook the houses regularly as they were landing and taking off. Just thought it would be an interesting thing to do. No particular person inspired me though I was impressed that my classmate, Glennis Jerome’s brother Gregor got into LIAT – I think I was at “A” Level College at the time. I also remember Capt. (Ewart) Hinkson coming to talk to us on the Morne during Career Week.
SNO: How did you begin your aviation career?
CAPTAIN LIZ: I found out that the UK did not let women fly in the airforce and airlines were not funding cadet ships for training at that time. I knew that Gregor Jerome had won a UNDP scholarship to the regional flying school in Trinidad (Caribbean Aviation Training Institute) and saw that as my most likely chance as the training was and is still very expensive. I won the scholarship and spent the next 2 years in Trinidad getting my Commercial Pilots License with Multi engine & Instrument ratings. Passed my CAA (UK) theory exams top of my class and with the best average marks the Institute had ever had. I also passed my practical flight check with a BWIA examiner captain at my first attempt.
SNO: What was your next step for gaining employment?
CAPTAIN LIZ: In April 1983, at 20 years old I was hired by LIAT as their first female pilot. I flew as a first officer on the Banderainte, (Bandit) then the Twin Otter based in Barbados and later Saint Lucia then finally the Dash-8 based in Antigua. When I come home to visit I am often surprised and pleased when people say they remember me flying them somewhere on LIAT.
SNO: What other types of aircraft have you piloted?
CAPTAIN LIZ: I had gotten married to a fellow pilot from Suriname and in 1986 we made the move to the Netherlands to further our careers. After a few hiccups and having to do my theory subjects again according to the Dutch syllabus – I started with Transavia Airlines, a Dutch charter company that also did some scheduled flights. I was the second female pilot, seven years after they took on the first female pilot. In October 1989 we performed the first Dutch all female crew flight from Amsterdam to Crete (Greece).
I was flying the Boeing 737-300 as a First Officer. Just under three years later I got my 4th stripe and became Captain at age 29. In the years following Transavia upgraded their Boeings from the 200 and 300 series to the modern glass cockpit 700 and 800 series which we now have. They hold 150 and 190 passengers. I have always flown variants of the 737. I now have more than 15,000 flight hours I am also checked out to land on the shortest runways the B737 is allowed to land on.
I was an instructor for 10 years and presently I do training in Joint Crew Resource Management (communications skills for pilots & cabin crew). Transavia now flies to about 90 destinations in Europe, North Africa, Dubai & Cape Verde and we flew 5.8 million passengers last year.
SNO: If you were to choose another career, what would it be?
CAPTAIN LIZ: If I couldn’t fly I would probably do some type of counseling – I studied psychology as a hobby & have a bachelor’s degree with upper second class honors from the British Open University. I also have taught “fear of flying” courses and am thinking of setting up a website to help those who do not enjoy flying.
SNO: When you are not piloting an aircraft what else do you do?
CAPTAIN LIZ: When I am not flying I enjoy traveling with friends or chilling in Amsterdam which is now my second home. Also, I love going to the theatre, museums and driving my cabriolet with the top down when the weather is good.
SNO: Is there any historical first in your career that St. Lucia does not know about?
CAPTAIN: Not too sure about a historical first other than LIAT & the Dutch female flight but I was a board member for the International Women Pilots Society for 10+ years and the only woman ever to organise eight of their conferences.
This feature runs every Tuesday and Thursday. It is written by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]