Ange Dickinson: hang gliders to A330s and soon she hopes A350s

Green Villas resident was New Zealand's first female air force pilot

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Ange Dickinson was New Zealand’s first female air force pilot

Ange Dickinson, who started her flying career running off cliffs slung under a hang glider, is now one of Cathay Pacific’s few female captains and is looking forward to piloting the A350WXB.

Ange, pronounced “Angie”, lives at Green Villas off Yan Yee Rd with husband Bob McKirdy. She is one of only two Cathay woman captains who live in Sai Kung. The other is Annabelle Cochrane, who became CX’s first female captain in 2007.

Asked how many women command aircraft for Cathay, Ange says only about 10.  Why so few?  Cathay has approximately 60 female pilots out of a total of nearly 3000 flight crew.  “We don’t feel discriminated against. We are treated no differently.”

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Captain Dickinson and a Cathay colleague
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Flying Kiwi

Unlike the Royal New Zealand Air Force:  “There was a lot of attitude.’The last thing the world needs is woman pilots!'” Ange has the distinction of being New Zealand’s first female air force pilot.  She was a hang gliding enthusiast in Whangarei when the Government announced women could join the RNZAF as pilot cadets. Ange was accepted.

At first she flew helicopters, then Hercules transports and Orion maritime patrol aircraft.  She has flown in the Antarctic. “When you touch down you feel the runway sink under you.” One of her last air force assignments was flying then Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Everest climber Edmund Hilary to the Antarctic.

Ange joined CX 14 years ago at the bottom rung, second officer. She was promoted to first officer on 777s, later 747s, becoming a captain in 2011. Cathay is phasing out all four-engine aircraft in its passenger fleet. Now Ange’s in the left seat on A330s, flying twin-engined aircraft across oceans. “We stay within three hours flying time of an airport we can land at.”

She says she has five years to go to retirement and hopes to spend those remaining years piloting the A350XWB. This is Cathay’s first new aircraft type in nearly a decade.

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It’s an extra-wide-body (XWB) aircraft that can fly up to 17,600km non-stop and is the first Airbus with its fuselage and wings made of carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer.  Cathay has ordered 46 costing US$300 to $350 million each, depending on model.  The first one in Cathay livery is due to arrive in February.

Ange says she still gets “a kick out of going to work. There is always something different.”

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Early days in the Royal New Zealand Air Force

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