By Dr Renée Ralph, Co-Founder, The Brilliant Foundation
HONG KONG- Christina Ho fluent in Mandarin, English and Cantonese loves creating things as a child and still does, drawing her cartoon mascot cat, christtina_meow offering positive messages to the world.
Christina HO at TEDX TinHau Women 2022
Christina with her mum
As a child, her curiosity, whims and fancies were nurtured by her mother. Christina acknowledges that her mother is her strength who continuously supports her in her teenage years and adult life.
Renée: “Your parents are quite unique in this sense especially from the Asian culture.”
Christina replied: “ Saying that……my parents are still traditional parents. As a child, I asked “Why?” a lot. I always took a while to do my homework. I am their eldest daughter, number one in the family.”
“My Mum is a nurse. I am very proud of Mum serving the community during SARS and COVID-19. Dad is retired already. My Mum gave me a lot of support and confidence to do whatever I wanted to do.”
When the time came, after schooling, her mother’s kind heart gave her the confidence to ask whether she could go abroad to study. “My Parents thought I was joking about it and maybe they thought I was too young for it. However, my parents were too poor and they didn’t have the money to send me abroad.”
Christina found other avenues for her quest to study abroad. She started researching on the Internet for other schools and universities overseas. Finally, after several applications, an interview and a presentation …… Christina was awarded a scholarship to study in the United States.
Remembering the moment when she got the scholarship, she said: “I asked my mum whether I could go. As traditional parents, it was hard for them, but they finally said “Yes”. I am very grateful to my parents that they said yes. If they said no, it would have changed my life and I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Fashion Designer at United States of America
Christiana decided to pursue a career in the Arts in America. “I did something different,” says Christina. “I enrolled in an Arts degree and it took me 5 years to complete. I graduated in design, fashion design and fashion industry. I completed fashion illustrations, tried different classes and when I completed my degree, I went into the workforce for a couple of years”. A vast juxtaposition to the usual medicine, law and commerce as all Asian daughters are meant to pursue.
She explains: “You see… Life is more meaningful where life can connect life – that is why I went into design. I can create a dress…I can create a mug and communicate life in an art exhibition too.”
Exploring the World as a Flight Attendant
Christina wanted to see the world and thought the next best option to travel was to become a flight attendant. Christina applied for a job at a major airline in Hong Kong and worked as a flight attendant on all fleets.
One trip, she was on her way to Kuala Lumpur for a friend’s wedding and she had to sit in the cockpit for the entire flight from Hong Kong as it was completely full.
She remembered sitting in the cockpit, she expressed that it was such an amazing experience and when dawn approached, “all the instruments lit up like a Christmas Tree.”
Christina said: “I remember that feeling… …my heartbeat was beating in time with the lights. I was especially touched because the male pilots were professional in their communication and explained to me what they had to do when flying.”
Christina’s Mentor – First Flying Trip
“I had a mentor, and he was a retired training captain at Mid-West Airlines. He had a Piper J3 Yellow Cub, a vintage aircraft which had no side window, and it was totally open.”
“He requested an artistic sticker on the tail of his vintage plane. Instead of a sticker, I painted “the cub” on the tail of the plane. ”
The plane that Christina painted in Kansas, Piper J3 Cub
The bear that Christina painted on Piper J3 airplane
“He was grateful for my artwork and hoped to compensate by giving me a $20 note.” Christina declined and asked instead whether he could take her up in the air.
Christina said: “I was holding the camera afraid of it falling down. I was sitting in front and he was flying behind in the back seat. That was the first time I flew in the sky but at this point in time, I didn’t think I was going to become a pilot.”
“Not until many years later, I discovered my passion for being a pilot. I went back to the States and became a volunteer in his airfield. I wanted to be a volunteer. I cleaned the plane, he taught me all the technicalities for the aircraft, I even filled it with petrol.”
Meanwhile, whilst still working as a flight attendant, Christina studied when she wasn’t operating, and finally received placement in the Cadet Pilot Program after a six month interview process.
“Not a single one of my family members are in the aviation industry” said Christina.
“Were your parents shocked?” I asked
Christina said: “My parents didn’t really understand. Why am I not married? Why am I not having kids? Why am I not settling down?”
“I also realised that friends don’t tell you that they don’t trust you in your career choice. However, they can support you with encouraging words.”
“I remembered I had a friend who taught me mathematics and questioned my ability if I didn’t understand the basics.”
The training entails six months of cadet pilot selections, 55 weeks of residential flying and ground school in Adelaide. Six months ground training, studying 17 subjects and six months of flight training to get most of the licenses needed.
Christiana said: “Preparing yourself to get an Airline Transportation Pilot License and Commercial Pilot License takes at least 55 weeks. The airline wants to know whether that this person can work under pressure and solve problems. I studied 17 subjects – air law, methodology, principles of flight, engines, radio communication and navigation.”
Each class had 10 people wanting to be a pilot. An estimate of 10-20% will not make it and will have to take a different career path.
“I had 13 people in my class, two girls. My class was a good class as everyone passed. One of them was a Captain switching to commercial license, one third of the class already had a pilot license……some were fresh graduates, some were engineers.
I could tell on their faces what they thought about me, ‘Christina’ ‘Will she be able to make the mark?’”
“I remember the first solo take-off and landing I did, without my instructor, and my first, solo navigation flight. I was responsible everything in that flight. Night flying as well… When I could not see in the dark night sky.”
“I learnt about aerobatics in flying and how to recover the plane from topsy turvy positions when it’s not listening to you.”
“I was learning about one engine [and] two engine planes, how to use the rudder and how to control and land.”
“We first learned to fly single-engine aircraft, then learnt how to fly a twin-engine aircraft. Additionally, the challenges in rudder control when one engine is out on a twin-engine aircraft. And in landings like that, the rudder control needs to be adjusted with all other factors.”
“We went through multi-crew training in a simulator and on live aircraft - how to fly the Airbus A320 simulator and what different colours of light mean.”
Christina flying with her mum
Finally, after 55 weeks of cadet training in Adelaide, “I flew my mum down to see my cadet graduation.” in early April 2019.
Christina explained that her mum did not really understand what job she would be doing. So when she came to her cadet graduation she arranged a flight for the two of them.
She said: “I was so happy, I took mum up in a little plane and flew her around. My mum loves adventure and she is brave. I planned a 2 hour trip (instead of the usual other classmates’ 45 minutes) and I explained to my mum it will be bumpy.”
“It was lovely that I could bring my mum up in the air. I will always remember that moment where my mum was enjoying herself. She was so happy, and she saw the coastline. She loved it.”
“I then came back to Hong Kong to do ground school again plus simulator training to receive a type-rating on the Boeing 777, which was assigned to me by the major airline. I then started line-training, which is training on live aircraft; passed the line-check and became a qualified pilot.
“It is a challenging environment, and every six months, since I graduated, I am tested for the entire profession- keeping my skills sharp and up-to-speed.”
Christina has an amazing mindset; she believes in herself and the capacity to achieve whatever she wants to do and become.
She says: “I am happy that I tried different classes during my teenage years. I learnt how to cook in nutrition class and I learnt how to be a librarian. It opened my mind to a lot of things and that made me stronger. I didn’t question myself when I saw other people becoming a pilot, as I thought a career as a pilot suited me. It fits me, as an individual. I wanted to go for it. If they can do it, I can also do it too.”
“I am so grateful that I have become a pilot. It is my dream accomplished. The best time to fly is spring and autumn. It is not pleasant to fly in summer and winter.
“When I am flying, I focus on the flight itself, and I empty my mind when I fly. It is a huge responsibility.”
Christina in Jungfrau, Switzerland
According to ISA 2021 data, there is only 5.8% of pilots who are female worldwide and 4.5% in Hong Kong in 2021. Only 5%-10% of commercial pilots in the world are women. It is estimated that 4.5% is the percentage for Hong Kong in 2021 and the rate has remained the flat for the past 30 years.
“Currently I am single, and I am passionate about advocating to young kids, girls and women that they can be who they want to be,” says Christina.
TEDX Talk by Christina Ho on Aviate, Navigate, Communicate
What can Christina do now? How can she help the aviation industry, the young girls and women?
Parent’s Group, Hong Kong Youth Aviation Academy, school visits!
“Show the kids – no matter what – I have been a teenager, struggled like you. I have been there. Not everyone has the courage to say YES to these challenges and overcome the hurdle.”
Female Pilot Advisory Group
“I am part of the Female Pilot Advisory Group and help with policy making to look after kids and family.
We only had female uniform three years ago.
These changes are being made. Is it policy? Is it education? Little changes like on Menus, Guides and Catalogues, it used to say “he” – now we use the word “Pilot”.
“Working with the committee on mandatory leave – when female pilots give birth and stay on the ground; After 10 months, what can we do to help? Listening to other people’s stories helps me out, in my strive for advocacy”
Peer Support Network – pilot to support pilot.
“Courses on how to be a good listener – and not give advice. I learn more about people and people help me to be a better person; Understanding the role of a mother who is also a pilot.”
Encourage, Inspire and Self-Belief
Christina is straightforward and she says: “I am not superman, superwoman or anything. Being humble is the key in bringing things forward.”
“I want to inspire individuals or women. I want to show them a different kind of pilot. We can break the stereotype that pilots are guys – especially for me, an Asian woman. I want to inspire them to live a life that they want, instead of a career talk.”
“I hope to do school visits – all a kid really needs is just that encouragement – “You can do it.” If someone else say: “You can do it” that external force is the Chinese culture of human expression rather than saying: “I love you” which is more of a Western thing.
“I did not use social media till last year. I had to learn to talk in their young language, I have started a series called Life Lessons from the Sky. Christtina Meow – a flying cat and she teaches aviation stuff and her challenges in life. If you feel a little blue and down – the flying cat is like a “pick me up”. Just to keep the vibes positive.”
Christina’s motto : “Always trying something to see if you like or not. Try it or Rate it yourself. Taste the Apple yourself.”
“I didn’t plan this story – as the challenges came, I ran with the noise in my heart, I was trying not to make any drama. To inspire, I will have to communicate to others. It is not about my achievement, as that is not meaningful. It’s how I can make meaningful impact for others.”
Christina participated in Fly Pink Hong Kong and raised funds and awareness for Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation.
Christina and I having a conversation about her life
Copyright @The Brilliant Foundation