July 10, 2004  (STAR) By Sandy Araneta  -  The women of Cebu Pacific Airlines are taxiing off the runway — and they have full control of their aircraft, from the cabin to the cockpit.

The local airline’s maiden flight with an all-female crew took off from Manila for Cebu at 1 p.m. yesterday, with Capt. Catherine Marie Castillo handling the plane’s controls.

Castillo, 34, hails from San Juan and is a graduate of the University of the Philippines (UP), where she earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration.

She first worked for her uncle’s export firm as an administrative and finance officer in 1991.

A year later, she decided to become a pilot and enrolled at the Philippine Airlines (PAL) Aviation School.

Cebu Pacific’s first woman-powered flight carried 80 passengers to Cebu in an 118-seater DC-9. Completing the all-female crew were three flight attendants and a flight engineer.

"I never really planned on being a pilot," said Castillo, who is known to friends and family by her nickname, Brooke. "But the first time I flew a plane, it was blissful."

When she was still a college undergraduate, Castillo said, she dreamed of becoming a businesswoman. She also said she wanted to become part of an airline’s cabin crew because she loves to travel.

After she found out that her friends had also applied for formal pilot training and having realized that flying was a challenging vocation, she applied and was accepted at the PAL flying school.

Castillo recalled that a friend had said one of their high school classmates was also the first Asian female pilot.

"It was sort of accidental," she said. "I accompanied a (female) friend who wanted to become a pilot." Castillo’s friend did not make the cut for lack of height because she was only five feet and three inches tall when the minimum height for pilots is five feet and four inches.

Castillo, who stands five-foot seven, has logged a total of 4,000 flight hours.

She was first employed at Cebu Pacific as first officer of a DC-9 from 2002 to this month, when she was promoted to the rank of captain.

She also worked as second officer of the flagship PAL’s B747-400 from 1995 to 1997 and served as a relief officer on long-haul transpacific flights. She has also been tasked with accomplishing flight computation and records.

Castillo has passed the equipment qualification certificate course at the EVA Air and Malaysian Air.

According to Castillo, her first professional flight was as first officer for a PAL Fokker 50 from 1995 to 1997.

She said she has not experienced any major flight problems. Except for a minor problem when decompression occurred during one of her flights two years ago, the skies have been quite friendly to Castillo.

Cebu Pacific First Officer Mayra Florencio, 30, of Novaliches, Quezon City said she had wanted to be a doctor "but, when I was growing, I was getting afraid of entering the hospitals, so I scratched the idea of being a doctor. I wanted to be different, so I took up flying."

"Actually, what I wanted to do was do research for NASA (the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration)," Florencio added, "but I did not know what course to take, so I took up a four-year course in flying. At first, my parents and relatives were quite hesitant but I’ve proven myself, so they supported me."

During her training to be a pilot, Florencio said the orientation was mostly hands-on flying that came with a pleasant bonus — she got to go sightseeing.

"I was really amazed, especially (when) flying at low levels" during her first flight over the town of Plaridel in Bulacan, she said.

Meeting the minimum height requirement of five feet and four inches, Florencio has logged 3,000 hours of flying time.

Immediately after graduating from high school at Sta. Isabel College in 1991, she enrolled at the Air Link International Aviation School and completed her course in 1995.

"After graduation, the school took me in and I worked there as a ground instructor for one semester. I also worked as a ground instructor for Airworks Aviation from 1996 to 1997," she said.

Florencio worked for Air Ads Inc. as first officer from 1996 to 1997 as first officer on the firm’s King Air 200 and King Air E-90 aircraft.

She has also worked as a ground instructor for the Asian Aviation Academy, then for Aboitiz One Inc. as first officer for a YS-11, before she was hired by Cebu Pacific as first officer for the airline’s DC-9 in January this year.

Like Castillo, Florencio said she has not encountered any major mishaps in her flights.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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