As a girl growing up just a stone’s throw from Sydney Airport, Rosanna Vittorio was mesmerised by aeroplanes and dreamed of becoming an airline pilot. Now a captain with Cobham Aviation Services, Rosanna flies the Boeing 717 for QantasLink on RPT out of Darwin, the town she has called home for the past 16 years. Derek Royal caught up with Rosanna and discovered an experienced aviator whose passion for her profession continues to burn brightly.
FIRST OF ALL, WHEN DID YOU START LEARNING TO FLY?
I commenced my flying training in around 1991-92 at Bankstown Airport in Sydney
WHAT WAS THE ATTRACTION TO FLYING AND WHY DID YOU BECOME A PILOT?
From a young age I have always loved aircraft and the associated hive of activity surrounding the airport. As we lived close to the approach/departure path at Sydney airport there were aircraft constantly taking off or landing. There was one particular day I recall seeing a QANTAS 747 fly over the house. I was captivated not only by its sheer size but how incredible it looked, and knew from that moment I wanted to be part of it all.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR FIRST SOLO?
My first solo was a memorable experience. I couldn’t believe I was about to fly an aircraft on my own. I enjoyed the experience so much that I continued with the solo circuits until my instructor advised the tower I had to land.
WHAT ARE THE MOST CHERISHED MEMORIES FROM YOUR EARLY FLYING DAYS?
The most cherished memories from my early days include flying to the remote aboriginal communities, cattle stations, mail runs and tourist flights to the islands off Queensland. I would do it all again.
WHAT WAS YOUR FLYING AMBITION WHEN YOU STARTED FLIGHT TRAINING?
When I started my flying training my greatest ambition was to become a Captain of a B747.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CAREER SO FAR, FROM WHEN YOU GOT YOUR FIRST JOB TO YOUR CURRENT EMPLOYMENT AS A BOEING 717 CAPTAIN.
I commenced flying with a company called Skyport based in Alice Springs whom I was employed with for over six years. The flying out of Alice was basically all charter operations, flying to communities, stations, mail runs, etc. It was a great experience not only because of the flying, but also because I was fortunate to travel all over the Northern Territory, see some of the most unique, incredible sights this country has to offer but also meet the most interesting people. During this period I also flew Regular Public Transport Operations for Airnorth, a company based in Darwin and Katherine. Following Skyport/Airnorth I was employed by Sunstate Airlines for approximately 10 months based in Cairns flying the Twin Otter to the islands off the Queensland coast. This was more fun than work. From Sunstate I progressed to National Jet Systems, now known as Cobham with whom I am currently employed with and based in Darwin. To date with Cobham I have been fortunate to fly the BAE146 and presently the B717.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WITH COBHAM?
I have been with Cobham now for over 15 years.
WHAT TYPES OF FLYING HAVE YOU DONE WITH COBHAM?
The flying with Cobham is all RPT with the occasional rare charter. From Darwin we fly to Gove, Cairns, Alice Springs and Perth.
TELL ME ABOUT SOME OF THE MOST INTERESTING MISSIONS YOU’’VE FLOWN WITH COBHAM.
One of the most interesting places I have visited with Cobham was Timika in Irian Jaya. The approach into Timika was at night and considerably interesting due to the nature of the high terrain, and the trying weather conditions.
IN HINDSIGHT, ARE YOU SURPRISED BY WHERE YOU AVIATION JOURNEY HAS LED YOU?
I’m surprised by the journey itself rather than where it has led me, because I never doubted I would one day be a captain of a jet aircraft.
DO YOU EVER FLY FOR FUN (I.E. HIRE AN AIRCRAFT AND GO FOR A SPIN OUT OF HOURS) OR IS IT TOO MUCH LIKE WORK?
Unfortunately, I don’t get to fly for fun as I lead a very active life. Between work and other activities I tend to run out of hours during the day.
I’VE SPOKEN TO MANY PROFESSIONAL PILOTS OVER THE YEARS AND SOME SEEM TO LOSE THEIR PASSION FOR FLYING; THE MAGIC DISAPPEARS. HAS THIS EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
That passion or magic doesn’t disappear, it changes over time as one gains experience. When you have been in a position for a long period the excitement experienced of your first solo, first job or even first jet command will dissipate as time progresses, however the passion to want to continue to fly is always there. It just disguises itself in a different form otherwise we wouldn’t be flying.
WHAT CAN PILOTS DO TO REVITALISE THEIR SPIRIT TO FLY, TO RECAPTURE THE MAGIC THEY FELT WHEN THEY WERE NEW TO THE INDUSTRY?
That’s a difficult question. I personally find that I need to set goals to revitalise my spirit. Training both First Officers and Captains on the B717 has been one method of stimulating interest in my flying career.
WHAT GIVES YOU THE BIGGEST THRILL WHEN YOU’RE FLYING?
Takeoff and landing. Listening to the engines spool up on takeoff and the feeling of the aircraft becoming airborne is something you can never tire from. On landing, the challenge of being able to create the perfect touchdown during periods of trying conditions can also a highlight to any flight.
THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER HAVE YOU EVER ENCOUNTERED ANY DIFFICULTIES ASSOCIATED WITH BEING ONE OF THE FEW WOMEN IN WHAT IS A MALE-DOMINATED PROFESSION?
Initially, one of the difficulties I found working in a male dominated environment was trying to prove to yourself to others of being capable of doing the job.
WHAT IS THE GENERAL REACTION (IF ANY) OF YOUR CO-PILOTS WHEN THEY REALISE THEY’RE FLYING WITH A WOMAN, NOT JUST IN YOUR CURRENT EMPLOYMENT BUT IN PREVIOUS FLYING JOBS?
During my flying career I don’t recall having any issues with any of the co-pilots I have had the privilege to fly with. The majority of my colleagues I find are generally respectful of my position. I appear to generate more of a reaction from the public or passengers than I do from my peers.
HAVE THESE ATTITUDES CHANGED?
In general it takes time to change the attitudes of people. I think that over time, once female pilots become more common in the public eye, attitudes may change.
DO YOU HAVE AN AFFINITY, A SPECIAL BOND WITH OTHER FEMALE PILOTS?
Not really as I treat other female pilots as I would treat other co-workers. However, as a result of aviation I have made some very close friendships with other female pilots whom I do share a special bond with.
HAVE YOU EVER FLOWN IN AN ALL-FEMALE CREW?
Yes definitely. In the beginning it was quite a novelty flying as an all-female crew and watching the passengers’ reactions or listening to their comments. Many years ago out of Darwin we had an all-female crew fly to Timika and it was amusing watching the reaction of all the ground crew at Timika airport. It was amusing, as I’m sure almost every single person at that airport wanted a photo with us. On another flight a male passenger hearing there was an all-female crew sent a box of chocolates to the flight deck to keep the girls happy. It was quite amusing, however over time the novelty wears off and you wouldn’t even notice if you were flying with a female crew.
CASA STATISTICS SHOW THAT FEMALE ATPLS HAVE INCREASED IN THE PAST 15 YEARS. WHY DO YOU THINK MORE WOMEN ARE FLYINGTODAY?
Aviation is a very challenging, rewarding industry and if you are passionate and dedicated to the cause it is not a difficult career to pursue. Thanks to the likes of Deborah Wardley and the other female pilots who challenged the recruitment policies of airlines at the time, doors have been opened to make it possible for myself and others to realise our passion for flying. Once women find out what is required to become a pilot and it is achievable, the step forward is easy.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SCHOOLGIRLS LOOKING AT PURSUING A CAREER AS A PILOT?
The advice I will give to schoolgirls wanting to pursue a career in aviation is go for it!! It is the most rewarding, fun experience you will ever encounter. The possibilities of where your career path can take you to are limitless. There is a great deal of study involved, however if you are interested and passionate it will not be a difficult task to overcome. The only negatives are early morning departures.
WHAT DO YOU ABSOLUTELY LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I enjoy everything about my job. I love flying the B717 aircraft, to the challenge of training a First Officer to their first check to line, to training a Captain and preparing them for a command. Most of all I enjoy the satisfaction of completing a flight with a professional crew and having a great day. I can honestly say I’m living the dream. Have I already mentioned I don’t enjoy the early morning departures?
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOUR CAREER?
I thoroughly enjoy working for Cobham and am content with completing my career with this progressive and dynamic organisation.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE FLYING JOB?
Flying a B777 based in Darwin with Cobham but I don’t think that is going to happen in the near future. Mindful that the bigger they are, the longer they fly during odd hours. So I’m more than content to keep flying my B717, it’s perfect!