Meet Diana Gomes da Silva | Leaders in Action Society

Meet Diana Gomes da Silva | Leaders in Action Society


Since, I believe,
I was born I’ve always been
very passionate about space and about flying. From a very young age, first of all,
I wanted to be an astrophysicist. And then I wanted to be an astronaut.
And then, flying a little bit lower, since Portugal
has no space programme, I decided to pursue the career
of being an airline pilot. My first experience with an airline,
or something related to airlines, I was around the age of 17. I was
a flight attendant for a couple of months. And since then I had decided
that it was a career I had to pursue. I believe I have many references,
throughout my life, that had made me
follow my dreams wherever they were. The first one and the strongest one
being my mother. My mother is a woman full of strength. She’s, for sure,
one of my heroes. Is a person that, since we were born,
me and all my siblings, she told us we could be
whatever we wanted to be. If it was to clean the streets, we were going to be
the best ones cleaning the streets. If it was to be a professional surfer
or an iron woman, we could be whatever
we wanted to be. My father was an extremely determined
person and very hard working and he passed me those principles. If I had to say I had been inspired,
a lot of it had to be from my family, who they are. And then in my brother
I also have a very inspiring person. He’s very courageous and has done whatever
he wanted to do in life. Then, of course, I have other people
that I have admired in my life. Einstein, as a reference,
I say I have Stephen Hawking, they challenged everything
and everyone to pursue their dreams, although everyone told them differently
at a very young age. And, of course, Amelia Earhart.
So, specifically, in aviation I have to say Amelia Earhart
has been one of my heroes. I started flying in Cascais.
I became an airline pilot in Cascais and then I did my first air show
as an aerobatic pilot in Cascais. And that was a big mark in my life, as a personal achievement. Then, I have to say being
in the Middle East becoming the first Airbus instructor,
female Airbus instructor at the age of 26 I think that was a mark. Opening the aerobatic school
in Abu Dhabi and finally,
last but not least, it was for sure a moment in my
career that I will never forget, to have the first
female aerobatic air pilots. That was a big mark in my career
that I’m very proud of. As long as you do something that
you love, and I keep telling this to kids… Yesterday, I had several kids coming
to the flight deck, we had a delay, and they were looking
at the overhead panel and the cockpit and said: “There’s so many buttons.” “How do you study all this?” And I’ve never looked at it and thought:
“Oh, there’s so many buttons” because, when you love something you just study.
You study, you prepared yourself you do whatever you can
to be the best at your job, just for yourself. But, in the end, it doesn’t cost anything. And keep being curious, I think that is one
of the key factors in life to be a good professional.
Keep being curious. As a person, as well. So, first of all,
I was lucky enough to marry someone
who’s has the same job as me. So, that’s half the job done. He understands my crazy schedules, he understands
when I don’t sleep at home, he understands when I’m not home
for Christmas or breakfast or dinner… Or any of that, for several years. So,
as long as you choose a life partner, or a family that embraces your career, that helps a lot, as well,
on a personal level. Being comprehensive
I think is the key to success, and respecting each other
and whatever the other person chooses. I think one of the things
I love the most about my job is the fact that I see the sun every day. And that I take off and it’s 40 °C, and I land in Moscow and it’s -40 °C. And you get to see different people,
different scenarios, and different things every day. There’s not one flight that is exactly
the same as the other. So is the challenge
of being different every day. Another factor that I love, is that you get
to work with different people every day. So you get to know different people,
meet their backgrounds, their culture,
their history, their countries sometimes… That is very interesting
and very nice as well. The aerobatics will always
be a part of me. And I’m sure that, in the near future,
I will compete again. I was probably the youngest,
and I hope to, one day, be the oldest, woman in the world doing aerobatics.
The youngest one, I didn’t mean to do it, but the oldest, I’m going to be sure,
that I will target to be the one doing it. It will always be my passion.
It will always be the love of my life, that I couldn’t continue to have
a relationship with because there are other priorities in life. So, basically,
I had to make some changes especially when I left the Middle East
and came to Portugal. There’s other personal items in my life
that I want to take care of as well. So I haven’t resigned, I continue
to implement to aerobatic schools, I continue to write aerobatic manuals… Nowadays,
I fly a lot less aerobatics, but, it’s for sure,
something I will look back to. Something curious about aerobatics
is that it came into my life as a hobby. And as life went through, it started having a heavier and heavier
weight in my career as an airline pilot. And, curious enough, it was the reason
that took me to the Middle East. Because I wanted to fund
an aerobatics school. And we’re talking about 2009 or 2010 or 2011.
Things were hard in Portugal, hard in Europe, because of the crisis. So I found a window in the Middle East to make those dreams come true. Weirdly enough, in the Middle East.
But that actually happened. And more or less at the same time that Air France
accident occurred, in 2009, and the industry has found out
what I’ve always supported and believe: That all airline pilots should have
an aerobatic training. It’s the same as having a bus driver
having a Formula 1 course. So it makes you a better professional, to have different experiences
within your area, whatever those experiences are, even if at the first glance
it’s not that obvious. So, nowadays, across all industry, in the whole world,
all new airline pilots have to go through
some kind of aerobatic training. So,
I continue to write those manuals, be a consultant on those courses,
for several airlines and several airline training
organizations around the world. So,
it’s still a part of me. In a different way, but has made me
pursue a different course within my career as an airline pilot,
for sure. When I decided
to become an airline pilot, both my parents were very supportive and keen on me having
a college degree. At the same time that I was
doing the initial pilot medical course, or medical license, I acknowledged that one
of the ladies that was there had just lost her medical. And the problem of being an airline pilot is that your license
is always related to a medical license, which is something you cannot control. If you start seeing worse
or if you start hearing worse, it’s something you can’t really control. And with that,
you lose your license and you’re unable
to practice your job anymore. The first step, I have to say…
I think both came at the same time. Was me being afraid of losing
my medical one day and losing my job and the second being
my parents being very supportive on me having a college degree as a backup plan,
as a plan B. It’s something I’ve always loved doing,
talking and writing, so, journalism became a part of me. And I’ve used it in a different way, I think I’ve developed a lot of
skills, especially as an instructor, even as a captain in the airline industry, better way to communicate,
better way to deal with my colleagues… So there’s a lot of things
that cross different industries, that are interconnected, and that I can see
through these two different industries. That have actually helped me a lot,
the journalism course in the airline business. And everyone can be multidimensional
as long as you’re passionate about it. So as long as you find a passion in life,
whatever that passion is… I have aviation, but then I also have
family and I also have sports, and I also do sports with family
and aviation when travelling. So I think one
of the most important things is for you to be
passionate about life and then, within life, whatever are the aspects of life
that you love, to pursue those. Then to be determined in the way that my dad usually says
is a little bit of stubbornness. I like to say determined.
I think it sounds better. But basically, it’s those two things,
be passionate, be determined. And then find clear objectives
of things you want in life. I want to support others
in becoming pilots, for example. So how am I going to achieve that? And to use the same strategy as I use
in a flight deck or doing aerobatics to use the same in life. So,
you find something that you love, you set a up an objective
and then you pursue that objective. Nowadays, we have a name that is,
actually, quite accurate which is to “prepare for the startle”, something that you were not expecting. And the airline industry
has actually swift pilot training from taking in de box training, and doing engine failure or emergencies,
emergency descents, etc., to train startle,
which is to train for the unexpected. And the reason being is that… For example, the last 10 years
of aviation accidents all the accidents hadn’t occurred
previously, exactly the same. So, the emergencies
always come in a different way and we have always trained
exactly the same way, since the 70s. So we had to adjust
pilot training to new challenges, which are, for example,
multicultural environments. So, nowadays, we train something
that is training startle, according to what the other pilot does, so if the other pilot
does something unexpected. This was not trained before,
in the last 30 years, at all. So, basically,
we have adjusted pilot training to this new event,
which is startle. With that being said… How do you train for that?
How do you train for the unexpected? Well, you don’t train events.
You don’t train, for example, in my area,
you don’t train an engine failure, you train competencies. And, in aviation, we have to find 8 or 9, depending on the part of the world
that you have, nine competencies. And they are, for example, situation awareness,
knowledge, application of procedures, communication, leadership
and teamwork, decision making, these are flight path management
manual control, flight path management automation… So we have defined these
competencies that a pilot must have. And we have looked at both accidents and incidents that occurred well, as well,
that is a change in the industry. So, until now, we have always
trained for the last accident: “So, what have they done wrong?
Let’s correct that.” And now, you start seeing
that there’s a change in the industry. So, “They have done wrong,
let’s correct that and train for better, “but look at the crews
that have done right, “like, the Hudson.”
and “What have they done right? “And what have they developed with
that?” For example, the Hudson event, the pilot had,
across his career, a lot of different experiences, for example,
aerobatics and energy management. So he had developed competencies
that had let to success on that day. And you have to look at other industries
and, basically, apply the same, which is: “What are the things that went right,
actually? Why did they go right? and “Let’s try to do more of that.” And if you can’t reproduce exactly
the same event, for example… The emergencies as I was mentioning,
they never happened exactly the same. So, the aircrafts are not the same, the speed is not the same,
the birds are not the same, etc. The environment is never the same,
as I was saying before, that is one of the things
that I love about my job, but it’s always a threat. So, in order to train for that you need
to develop different competencies. And you can do that by training
a different set of events, different crews,
different communications, different skills. That is the challenge,
but one the things that is changing and that I love the most about my job,
as well. Is to now train a different set of skills. I think I closed the door, more or less, in the Middle East when I started
having female pilots as my trainees. So, I’d decided that
the job there was done when I was able to pass
the message to other females, specially in that area of the world, that
went through a lot more than I’ve ever, or any of us in Europe, for example,
will have to go through to decide that
they will become airline pilots. So, to set up an example,
and once I’d done that I kind of felt fulfilled in the Middle East. Different than I expected, actually, I thought that after I open
the aerobatic school the job was done, but I still
didn’t feel completely fulfilled until I had that passing of a message
and a social responsibility. And with that, when the challenge
was thrown to me by EasyJet
to be Amy Johnson initiative, I started noticing that in Europe
we do have a lot of opportunities. There’s the financial aspect,
that is a struggle to some people that
want to become airline pilots, but nowadays we also have means
and ways like the Amy Johnson initiative where we actually sponsor,
fully, the pilot course from the initial course,
until you are flying the airline, for women and men. That is something I want to make sure,
that the message is passed. I do not want to inspire only women
to become airline pilots, but to become whatever they want,
but also men. That there are jobs… Like, for example,
being a male nurse is as hard as a woman
being a female captain. Across the globe, of course, there are countries where women’s only
and sole job is to be mothers. They don’t even think about
having a career path or a career, at all. While traveling around the world,
I started noticing that I could pass,
even if it’s in the smallest way, just to go to schools
and to tell my story. And not that that is a big help, but, at least, it gives them
the chance of seeing a small light at the end
of the tunnel of opportunity. “If this woman could do this, “maybe I can do something else
and something completely different.” I do not look like an aerobatic instructor, an airline pilot, an airline captain,
I don’t look like that. Because people are expecting
another different look. Someone taller, manlier, bigger. And it’s wrong, cause you can be
whatever you want, however you look,
whatever you want to do. As long as you have
the principles behind. So, nowadays, I think my next job or the next things
that I’ll like to make or to finish, is to find a way to support others to become either an airline pilot
or anything in the airline industry. That come from countries
that they could never… If they don’t find someone
who helps them pursue their dreams, they would never find another way.
It’s completely impossible. I think one of
my responsibilities in life is to continue to pass
this message and to show my path, not that it’s the right one to do,
but at least it’s a path. The name of my aerobatic aircraft
was Dream Chaser. And it was not out of the blue,
it was because I do think that I am a dream chaser due to my
parents and my family and my life, I’ve always pursued my dreams. I would love to inspire
others to do the same. My next life goals are, for sure,
one is to inspire others and to help,
financially, educationally, in whatever ways I can to help
others to pursue their dreams. Another one, it’s my life goal, as a professional, to pursue
the dream of becoming a test pilot. Which is something I will
never give up on. And I always apply to being
an astronaut, always, when it opens. Was never called
but I always apply. And then, of course, to continue to fly
aerobatics at a very old age. We don’t choose family.
We choose the friends we have, and I always say my friends
are the family I chose. But we don’t choose family. And I was very lucky to be born
in a family of two amazing parents, an amazing stepdad and stepmom
and amazing brothers and sister. Everyone is very inspiring in my family,
and push us further. Though I was lucky in that sense,
cause you don’t choose. They’ve always inspired us
to go further, push further. I think, for example…
In the sense of gender equality, I never knew what that was,
because my parents, as a kid, I played soccer with my dad. There was no playing soccer
just with the boys, we were raised,
all of us, playing soccer. And with my mom, we would all
do things together with her. Horseback riding or swimming. There was never
a gender thing in our family. I’m pretty sure they
didn’t do this consciously, it’s just the way they are. But it actually ended up solving a lot of
barriers me and my sister find in life, and, as well, the way that
my brothers would treat women. So, gender equality is one of
the things that always inspired us, being determined,
finding something you love about it, you love and then pursue it. No matter what that is. A lot of good examples…
Sports, for example, sports gives you discipline,
gives you a sense of teamwork, gives you a sense of respect for others
and others’ opinion, a set of discipline, in terms
of the rules that you have to respect… To win or lose and still respect
the end result. So, there are a lot of things
I don’t think they did it with the end goal. But, in the end,
I think they turned out to be really amazing parents
and I’m super lucky that I had them. One of the biggest challenges we had is communication. Which is one of the competencies and one of the skills
that is most important in our job, as in the majority of the jobs,
let’s face it. That you have to deal with other people,
it’s communication. And your ability to communicate
at a right timely matter, and that your message is sent across
and received well, in a way that you meant. For example, I have a story
of me in the simulator with a captain from an Asian culture that is very rigid, in terms of hierarchy. So, it’s a culture that does not accept
very well the fact that the first officer,
I was a first officer at the time, a female at 26… And the captain was very senior
and from an Asian culture again, that is super rigid
in terms of hierarchy. I had to come across him to say
that I did not agree with his decision. And you can’t say
“I disagree with you”. Because that immediately creates a huge barrier in the communication. It can be offensive. And you don’t want to have
a break in the communication between the two flight
deck members, basically. When I started there,
we didn’t have these tools yet, so, one of the ways we had to
or I found to say was “I’m uncomfortable
with your decision”. He asked me: “Really?
What’s wrong with your chair?” I said: “No…” Because in his mind,
it was so outrageous that I was challenging him, that the only problem with
“uncomfortable” had to be with the chair. There was no other way that I could be
uncomfortable with his decision. I could not disagree with him,
that was not on the table. Anyway,
so after this we started digging we needed to find a way
to communicate between us, that is not offensive,
that we don’t have to lose time, in case of something abnormal,
for example. That we can’t lose time, but we need
to send the message immediately, we need to stop this, and then,
we need to do A, B and C. With that , we came across
with several… First of all,
a decision making module that everyone did exactly the same way,
a decision making module. What are the facts?
What are our options? What are we going to decide? What are your risks?, etc. So we had a decision making module
that was super strict. And then, within that
decision making module, when we accessed
our situation awareness, and our level of comfort
with a decision with what was going on, etc… We had to communicate with each other
what was our situation awareness level. And our level of agreement
between the two of us. And we said with colours. And if I was comfortable with
your decision and I agreed, I would say “I’m in green”. If I was uncomfortable,
I would say “I’m in the amber”. If I really disagreed,
I would say “I’m in the red”. So, we had ways
to communicate with each other by colour coding,
which sounds very basic. But, in the end, if you think about it,
it’s what you want. Specially in a stress situation.
You want simple things. You want green, amber or red. And the other person already knows if
it’s green, we can continue like this. If it’s amber, we need to buy time,
change the plan and change the mission. Or, if it’s red,
we need to stop immediately and then directly ask: “What is your problem?
You need to tell me so that we fix this.” So, we had a certain set of tools, basically, to use in a daily life, in a daily operation, to, basically, be able to overcome the cultural background
and differences. Another cultural challenge I found,
for example, that is always a story I like telling. Is that little things were the ones that were
the most difficult, not the big things,
in the Middle East. So when we set up the flight school
in Al Ain, in Abu Dhabi, to set up the aerobatic school… The first day, I arrived there
with the aircrafts, etc., and uniform and, everything after everything
was already rolling… So I asked: “Can I go to…
So, where’s the bathroom?” And they look at each other:
“What bathroom?” “The bathroom.” “Oh… The female bathroom?” It’s in the other building, in the terminal,
that was like, 30 minutes away. There was no female bathroom.
There was no female bathroom. Because there hadn’t been
another female before. So, the simple fact of going to
the bathroom, for me, was a challenge, cause I had to lose, 30 minutes going
and 30 minutes coming back. And, of course,
in a very expedite way, they figured that out
and they solved it. And then the men stayed without
a bathroom for a couple of days so that I could have
my own bathroom in the hangar. In the Middle East, small things
like that became a challenge. I had many failures in my career. I had an airline that I applied to that was my dream,
when I was 23, that I didn’t get in. I had engine failures,
I had emergencies, I had frustrations,
I had days that didn’t go as I expected. I had many failures in my career,
I cannot point one. But I know that all of them, without exception,
have made me a better professional than the successes.
So… I had many.
I think everyone has. You just have
to be honest with yourself. I do think this is one
of the keys to success in life: Be curious, continue to study
and continue to prepare yourself. Another one is,
always be humble. And be ready to listen. I had a friend
many years ago that said: “We have two ears and one mouth.
And that is for a reason, “and it’s to listen more
and to talk a little bit less.” Well, for myself,
specially as a woman and as a captain,
that is kind of hard to do, to listen more and to talk less.
But it’s true. It’s one of the keys in life
and the keys to success. And then, as well,
is to find something you love, be passionate about it,
dedicate yourself. It costs a lot,
you need to sacrifice a lot. Nothing good comes easy. Basically, when you love something,
everything is worth it. Translation and Subtitling
Ana Luísa Aguiar / PSB Studios

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