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Celebrating Women in Aviation: Hilary Blackburn, Group Risk Manager at Chapman Freeborn

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10th March 2021

To celebrate International Women’s Day at Chapman Freeborn we are shining a spotlight on women in aviation. Our Celebrating Women in Aviation series holds space for the experiences of our wonderful colleagues, giving you an insight into how they got to where they are today and their advice for other women and girls considering a career in the aviation industry.

Hilary Blackburn has worked at Chapman Freeborn as the Group Risk Manager for 9 years, however her aviation career spans 12 years in total.

Her first aviation memory was a dramatic one. She was a young child who had just flown back to Heathrow from Johannesburg with her family, and as they arrived the engines were billowing out a thick black smoke. As the aircraft touched down on the runway, they were greeted by a sea of fire engines speeding towards the aircraft as two out of three engines were on fire! All passengers were evacuated as an emergency, “It’s a wonder I ever stepped on board again!”

Despite not specifically planning to work in aviation, Hilary has always had a love for travel.  As a teenager, her first Saturday job involved working in a travel agent on Saturdays. As a student, her placement year was spent in yield control for an airline, which she loved, “Standby airfares were a company benefit which meant travel adventures at the weekend!” Hilary left the aviation industry after this role but remained working in global roles that featured overseas travel, not to mention hearing many stories from one of her close friends who was an air charter broker.

Hilary did consider learning to learning to fly, but after experiencing extreme air sickness in her first cockpit experience she had to park that dream! However, after the birth of her children Hilary felt the pull of aviation once more when she saw the job advertised at Chapman Freeborn, “I heard of an opportunity to return and use my skillset in an industry I have always loved”.

Hilary’s role at Chapman Freeborn “is to assist the company and its staff to best ensure that we arrange the transportation of passengers or cargo to their destination safely, legally and with as little risk as possible to the staff and the group”. Day to day she is responsible for the internal risk programmes and policies, screening enquiries and performing diligence on certain areas of business. She also produces training and guidance materials and assists the Chapman Freeborn Humanitarian Team.

When asked what her favourite part of her job is, Hilary explained, “I enjoy the sheer variety and diverse nature of our business. We sit in a unique and privileged place which affords us a birds’ eye view on what the world wants to move around the globe. We see the real world in all its geopolitical glory. We fly aid into warzones and areas suffering famine, we deliver music tours, transport anything from submarines to livestock – what other industry offers that level of diversity!”

Hilary hopes that in the future the aviation industry will have a more balanced distribution of men and women. She worries that the industry has been slower than others to adopt a more equal balance between the sexes, “Women are so capable, but it has long been, historically, a more male-dominated industry. Women need to feel supported and confident in their own abilities from an early age; they need to feel able to progress their careers within the culture of the business. An environment of mutual respect and flexibility is healthy, regardless of gender. I believe that women can be great advocates of each other and can encourage their own colleagues to recognise their potential”.

There are more options for career paths in aviation than many people realise, and Hilary advises any girls or women considering a career in this industry to find one that suits your particular skillset; “There are plenty of choices in aviation. Be honest with yourself, accept fair criticism and talk with people you admire to share in their knowledge and experience. Take something from each of those conversations and learn from it.”

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