Meet Avery Lalor, a 20-Year-Old Community College Student and Airplane Pilot

For more than 60 years, Glamour has honored exceptional college women across the U.S. This year, we turned our focus to students enrolled in community college. Meet Avery Lalor, an aspiring airplane pilot and singer. 

Avery Lalor can taxi an airplane, take off, run radio communications, and navigate the skies using an aircraft’s GPS system. She has studied aerodynamics, engines, and meteorology.

She knows how to fly a plane using only cockpit instruments, without using any other visual, including looking out the window. Cumulatively, she has spent dozens and dozens of hours flying.

But for most of her life, she never dreamed of being a pilot.

“Honestly, I had never seen a female pilot,” she says. “I didn’t consider it. It wasn’t even in the back of my mind.” Lalor loves to travel—her family has been to 35 states, and she has a life goal of making it to all seven continents. But how could she have imagined making her career in the skies? Just over 5% of the world’s commercial airline pilots are women. And the U.S. lags behind—to put it in perspective, there are a higher percentage of female NASA astronauts than women pilots of US airlines.

Lalor finally realized—with prodding from her mom—that becoming a pilot is her perfect career. She took the controls of a plane for the first time, with supervision, at 16. In many cases, male pilot instructors have moved over in the cockpit to make room for Lalor, cheered her on, been her teachers. But regularly, she has encountered a potent form of the same discrimination that keeps all STEM fields male-dominated. She’s faced claims that women just can’t handle major machinery, can’t navigate, can’t be trusted to lead. She’s worked twice as hard, flown more, become textbook perfect, in the hope that male flight instructors will give her the same chance they give any man. The implication, again and again, is that women aren’t made for action—that we should just watch and applaud from afar.

“This just makes me more fired up,” Lalor says of the sexism. “I’m going to use this as my fuel.”

Lalor is a twin. Her sister, Emma, nominated her for Glamour College Woman of the Year, citing her commitment to not just succeeding in a male-dominated field, but bringing other women in aviation along with her. When Avery and Emma were graduating from high school, they realized that sending two kids to college at the same time would be a huge financial strain on the family And for Avery, there was another concern—flight school is expensive, what with paying for so many specialized instructors, fuel, and airtime. Both sisters started looking into community colleges.

“I talked to some counselors and picked their brains, and they said as long as [the credits are] transferable over to the next college, they’re the same classes; it’s just a less expensive option,” she says. Many teachers were supportive. But another, Lalor says, derisively compared going to a community college over a four-year university to going to the 99-cent store instead of Target.

“He doesn’t know our situation,” her parents told her. But Lalor held onto the stigma against community college. “I went into it thinking it was kind of shameful,” she says. “In my head I was like, Oh, community college is a step down from ‘real’ college. But it’s not! It’s just that it’s more affordable, and you can’t live on campus.” Lalor did some research and found Orange Coast—a local community college with an impressive aviation program. “It wasn’t my second choice,” she says, proudly. Community college wasn’t a compromise—it was perfect for her.

For pilots, it’s a long runway that leads from a teenage dream to takeoff. Lalor, who started learning how to fly by watching YouTube videos, just got her associates degree in aviation sciences. Next she’ll get her private pilot’s license, and then a bachelor’s degree. (A bachelor’s degree isn’t a requirement for commercial pilots, but Lalor wants one.) Then she’ll need a series of ratings, tests, and 250 hours of flight time to achieve a commercial pilot’s license. She’ll likely start at a regional airline. She can imagine getting a job as a Medevac pilot—something where she can help people but won’t have to see too much blood and guts. Then she’ll try for a job in, as she calls it, the big time, somewhere like Delta, Southwest, or American airlines.

“I think I always had it in my head—women can do anything—but I just didn’t consider aviation,” she says. “When I first started to get into it, I was like, ‘Why aren’t there more women doing this? This is so cool.’” Lalor has grown as a pilot when a male pilot has demonstrated confidence in her, who gave her a chance. As is their obligation, she points out. “Men need to step in and be a part of the solution,” she says, naming concrete ways men can make aviation more equitable, such as hiring women to elite positions, like CEO and manager of airline companies. “Men need to be supportive and allow women to take the forefront.”

In one sense, Lalor is in the same place she’s always been—she lives with her family, in the same county where she grew up. She and her twin sister have shared a bedroom for 20 years. And in another sense, she’s soaring. She works 24 hours a week at a coffee shop, and she sings—she recently released her first single, You’re My Type and has an Instagram account dedicated to covers. She aspires to be a working pilot, and a singer on the side. For most people, that would just be a fantasy. But Lalor is a systematic worker, and every semester she gets closer to her dreams.

The gender discrimination she has faced has been frustrating, she says. “But it also just makes me want to succeed even more,” she adds. “I’ll eventually be flying in those big airliner jets and say, ‘Hey, I still got through that. I’ve got this.’” 

Jenny Singer is Glamour’s staff writer

Source link