A former McDonald’s assistant manager is flying high after achieving her dream to become a pilot.
Go-getting single mum Krystel Razon, 35, refused to let daunting statistics showing that only five per cent of the world’s pilots are female, or the enormous £75,000 cost of training keep her out of the cockpit.
Instead, she left her comfortable life with her parents in Italy, where she had worked in a fast-food outlet for six years and returned to her native Philippines, where she joined an Alpha Aviation pilot training programme – enjoying her first solo flight in August 2020, in the middle of the pandemic.
Now she has flown for 197 hrs and 54 mins and is just a few hours away from the requisite 200 hrs flying time she needs and a few months away from obtaining the final qualification necessary to become a fully-fledged commercial pilot.
Krystel, who lives in Pampanga with her children Vaughn Harry, 10, and Lauryn Kaye, four, said: “I am determined to pursue this career as much for my children as for myself. They are my inspiration.
“My son always says, ‘Mum, be careful! Don’t go anywhere near the Bermuda Triangle!'”
She added: “When I ask him if he wants to become a pilot, he says no. I ask why and he says, ‘Because it’s dangerous and I might die.’
“When I ask if that means I might die because I’m a pilot, he says, ‘No, Mum, because I know you’re a very capable and skilled pilot.'”
Keen to become a pilot since she was a child as she always felt, “fascinated and thrilled” by planes, it was the £75,000 cost of training that held her back.
When she was 16, she completed some courses in dentistry for two years, but her parents were living in Florence, Italy, and asked her to join them, so she did – staying there for eight years and landing a steady job in McDonald’s.
She said: “I had a good salary and I was happy with my family, but I didn’t feel fulfilled, as I still so wanted to become a pilot.
“So, I decided I had to return to the Philippines and when I got back here in 2013 went to the Alpha Aviation Group (AAG), who provide lots of training courses for pilots, to find out how I could do it.”
She added: “I found out it would cost £75,000 and I needed to finish college and get a bachelor’s degree before I could even start training.”
Returning to college, aged 28, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in accounting and in July 2019 she started her training, thanks to a peer leader group, offered by Alpha, in partnership with RCBC banking corporation.
Loaning Krystel her tuition fees, repayments don’t begin until 24 months later, giving the single mum time to concentrate on her studies.
So, with a loan for £64,440 in place, in July 2019, Krystel’s dream of becoming a commercial pilot was in sight, as she started her two years of training.
She knew the odds against her were high, with only five per cent of pilots worldwide being women, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots
But what she could never have forecast was the hit taken by the aviation industry because of the pandemic.
She said: “The drastic drop in jobs in the aviation sector because of the pandemic was really alarming.
“Also, I was doing my training and I needed to get it done and find work, so I could pay back my bank loans.
“I really admired AAG because they were the first people in the country to continue the flight training, despite the pandemic, which saw all flight training all over the world suspended when it first hit.”
She added: “I got very depressed because of the pandemic – worrying about my training loan and the loss of job opportunities. But I didn’t give up and hoped that one day I would still land my dream job and secure a place in the cockpit.”
Despite facing many obstacles, Krystel has shown incredible determination to succeed.
She said: “It’s very empowering to fly a plane and very freeing as well.”
At the height of the pandemic back in March 2020, 19 young, courageous aspiring pilots proved that no matter what the circumstance is, dreams can still be pursued and realized.
Congratulations, APP 02-2020! Your AAG Family is proud of you! ✈️✈️ pic.twitter.com/1HjdbR2ZYj
— Alpha Aviation Group (@AlphaAvGrp) February 11, 2021
She added: “There are still a lot of gender stereotypes and old-fashioned assumptions that flying a plane is only for men.
“But you can find many skilled and capable female pilots in the cockpit, so I refuse to let my gender hold me back.
“And I think we will see the number of female pilots continue to grow if we, as women, don’t let society dictate to us what we should become.”
She added: “I also think that to overcome any kind of gender bias, women need greater careers advice, showing them what exactly is available to them.”
Krystel is also keen for the cost of pilot training not to prohibit all but the privileged few.
She said: “I find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet to repay my flight training loan.”
She added: “There should be more scholarships available for women, so that it’s more possible for them to go into the aviation industry.”
Fortunately, Krystel has found an excellent nanny who helps with her children, when she is working and studying.
And she frequently turns down social engagements to be with them, so they do not miss out because of her drive to succeed.
She said: “In my spare time, my first priority is always my kids.
“If I have to go away, I always make sure they have everything they need first.
“But being a pilot is very lucrative and if I have this amazing job in the future, it will be better for them, too.”
After a few more months of training, Krystel will now qualify for the job of her dreams.
She has her private and commercial pilot and instruments training licences, so the last step is to obtain her Airbus A320 rating, which Krystel is paying for herself.
She said: “I am just trying to get the finances in place for this last stage of training, which lasts for another two months.”
She added: “My big ambition is to become an airline pilot, so I am hoping to get hired by one of the three big companies here in the Philippines.
“I would also love the opportunity to apply for some international airlines and I want to fly around the world.”
Krystel, who has worked at her father’s small business in the Philippines to help fund her studies, as well as selling her clothes online, has not yet been able to fly her children anywhere because of the pandemic, but she makes sure they get a taste of what life as a pilot is like.
She said: “I always send my children photos from when I am up in the air, which they love seeing.
“Whenever I am asked why I want to be a pilot, when I am a mum of two, I say that, as well as it being my dream job, it’s also a very lucrative career and it will help me to provide the very best for my children.
“I also want to be able to give back to my parents, who have always supported me despite their own hardships.”
She added: “My advice to women who want to become pilots is not to let the gender gap – we all know the aviation industry is male dominated – hold you back.
“Just remember, an airplane knows no gender. As long as you give it your best, you will do exceptionally well.”