Singapore’s first female commercial pilot
Anastasia Gan Kum Yoke is, in every sense of the term, a high-flyer. Her career as a pilot spans both the military and civilian spheres, and is a story of soaring achievements and many firsts in a heavily male-dominated field.
After completing her A Levels, she signed up for the Women Officer Cadet Course conducted by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). It was only the 3rd such course run by the SAF. She topped the class and won the “Best Cadet” Award. She was initially assigned to an administrative post but found this unexciting. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) was at that time beginning to expand and was advertising for people who wanted to be pilots.
Anastasia applied to become an RSAF pilot and, after a rigorous selection process, was accepted. In 1979 she and a handful of other women completed their training and became the RSAF’s first women pilots. Another milestone was achieved when she was selected to attend the Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) course and became in 1980 the first female QFI in the air force.
The RSAF in those days was not really equipped for female pilots. She recalls: “There were no changing rooms for females and so a locker was placed in the female toilet and that became my changing room. My flight suits were always too long for me and the flying gloves were too big. But this never bothered me as I was just very happy that I had a chance to fly.” During her two decades with the RSAF, Anastasia had appointments such as an instructor in the Flying Training School and Officer Commanding in charge of the Air Grading Flight section in which she assessed individual pilot’s suitability for further flying training.
By the time she left the RSAF in 2000, Anastasia had attained the rank of Major and was an Officer Commanding of 121 Squadron which flew the Fokker 50 aircraft. She was responsible for the training and operational upgrading of junior pilots. She also achieved the highest rating of Category “A” both as a QFI and operational pilot. She is the first female pilot to have done so.
In 2001 Anastasia joined the commercial airline Silkair and became Singapore's first female commercial pilot. She began her new career with some trepidation, concerned that if she failed it would make it difficult for other women keen to enter the commercial aviation world. She said: "I was lucky I was able to meet all the expectations and I am glad to say that many other females have since joined the commercial aviation scene."
In 2002, Silkair appointed her as a First Officer on the A320 fleet in 2002. Two years after this, she joined Jetstar Asia where she was promoted to Aircraft Captain in 2005. She is now with Tiger Airways. In March 2012 Anastasia was appointed as an Authorised Flight Examiner by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
"When I was young, I never aspired to be a pilot as I believed it was unattainable; an alien ambition that was never going to ever happen. In my sheltered life, I never read of Amelia Erhart or knew any female pilots. Being a female pilot has exceeded all my wildest dreams and I am extremely proud to be a female pilot. Now if I was 30 years younger I would dream of being an astronaut!"