Don’t give up before you try – Pasaree “Captain Tuang” Kangwanpong
“I never dreamt of becoming a pilot.”
This is Pasaree Kangwanpong’s admission to us, while reflecting back on her journey to becoming a female pilot for Thailand’s long-established domestic airline, Bangkok Airways.
“Because I grew up in Chiang Mai and I graduated there, being a pilot seemed so far for me, and I never thought of that at all.”
Don’t you want to become a pilot?
Pasaree, also known as “Captain Tuang” is one of a few female pilots in Thailand’s aviation industry, as being a pilot had always been perceived as a job for men.
“I wanted to become an air traffic controller,” she said as she reflected on her initial dream.
“Back in high school, my guidance teacher gave me some information about the occupation. In those days it wasn’t even a Bachelor’s degree, just a diploma. So I discussed it with my family, and they said I should get a Bachelor’s degree first.”
After she graduated with a degree in Computer Science, things took her in a different direction, where she briefly worked as an actress and a model.
Although the Thai entertainment industry looks glorious and alluring, leading to many young people dreaming to become a part of it, Pasaree felt that it didn’t suit her at all.
“I felt that [acting and modelling] wasn’t for me, it was not me at all” she said.
“There were so many reasons behind it, but mainly it’s about time and the waiting, where you were asked to come at 6am, but you don’t get to start shooting your part until 4pm, you don’t get to do anything for the whole day. I asked myself, why am I wasting so much time? I want to do something else, and there’s got to be something that is much more exciting.”
After saving enough money, she decided to go back to study, where she sought advice from her well-respected senior relative, who was an executive of AeroThai.
“He asked me, don’t you want to become a pilot? I was like, is that even possible? I didn’t know that before.”
She then took that advice to study, and later obtained a private pilot’s license.
“I really enjoyed it, so I did further studies on it.”
With more than 13 years of experience, Captain Pasaree says that immediate decision-making is the most important skill, which all pilots need to possess.
“You have to be quick, you must use all the information you have in the most efficient way and make the best decision as quickly as possible.”
Most of the decision-making is related to weather conditions, fuel and planning to land. These are the things pilots have to do for everyone’s safety on board.
Another important skill is multi-tasking, as pilots have to listen to the radio while controlling the plane and monitor instruments at the same time.
“The captain has to constantly analyse the information, in order to make a firm decision. The co-pilot only supports us, but I have to make the final decision, and I have to take responsibility for all the decisions I make.”
COVID-19 vs Career Path
Pilots, flight attendants and airline staff have always been dream jobs for many, as they are thought to be highly stable, with high salaries and benefits. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak has turned their lives around, with many airlines having to lay off their staff and, in worst cases, go bankrupt.
“I never thought that COVID-19 would affect us so much,” said Captain Pasaree.
“I have never had to stop flying, ever since I joined here. I’ve always been flying. Sometimes I only took six days off in a month. Then, all of a sudden, we stopped flying for the entire month, even for 4-5 months straight.”
“So I felt nervous when I came back to fly again, and I thought to myself, can I still fly like before?”
Captain Pasaree admits that the pandemic completely changed her perspective of her career, as she never thought that her occupation would become unstable.
“Everyone has always thought that being a pilot is fine,” she reflects on people’s perception of her career’s stability.
“Even banks won’t let us take out a loan because we’re pilots and cabin crew. It’s strange, because we used to get special benefits, just like doctors. Turns out that our occupation is not secure anymore.”
Looking towards the future, Pasaree thinks that COVID-19 will be around for quite some time. Therefore, she advises people who wish to enter the industry to have a back-up plan, in case there’s another pandemic.
“I would suggest that those people find a second job just in case, or find a hobby from which you can make money.”
Equality and Respect
Though commercial flying is considered a male-dominated career, Captain Pasaree said that she is lucky to be surrounded by supportive people, who encouraged women to become pilots.
“Everyone here welcomed me with open arms, because the very first female pilot in Thailand came from Bangkok Airways. The very first female captain also came from here. That’s why I feel that everyone here fully accepts women.”
Therefore, she barely experienced any prejudice because she’s a female captain.
“All the men treated me just like another pilot. I was worried at first that they were being nice to me because I’m a woman. Later I felt that they actually respect me.”
She is also glad that Thai society is more accepting of female pilots.
“Because in the old days, passengers were like “we have a female pilot?” There were many people telling flight attendants how surprised they were when they found out that the pilot was a woman. I would wonder why they are so surprised. These days, they are familiar with it. Now they are very happy that they’re flying with a female pilot.”
“Don’t give up before giving it a try”
Don’t give up before giving it a try, would be Pasaree’s advice to anyone reaching for their dream job.
“First of all, don’t think that you can’t do it. Believe that you can first, then success will come to you.”
Although many women aspire to take up more male-dominant jobs, Pasaree pointed out that not every job is going to suit everyone, and that includes becoming a pilot.
“Always be yourself, don’t fool yourself. If you can do it, you can do it. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it,” she said.
“If it doesn’t suit you, then don’t force yourself, but if you really want this, then try as hard as you can.”
By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World