Celebrating International Women’s Day with an interview with Dorothy Saul-Pooley

We took some time out to get to know Dorothy Saul-Pooley a little better. A successful businesswoman and pilot, Dorothy took her first role here 18 years ago. She now delivers instructor and examiner training at her main base at Brighton City Airport and has satellite bases in Redhill and Lee on Solent.

A truly remarkable woman, she started out her career as a lawyer, specialising in intellectual property law, before moving into the aviation industry.

Dorothy Saul-Pooley

Why learn to fly

It was a chance meeting that led to Dorothy’s steps into aviation. She met someone skiing one year and, despondent with the legal profession, decided to take a leap of faith and learn to fly, leaving her job behind.

She completed her CPL after 250 hours and then went on to complete her ATPL after 600 hours flying (which were the rules at that time). She worked in Redhill and completed her IR before running out of money. At which point she reinvented herself as an aviation lawyer before returning back to work for a law firm at Heathrow, keeping up her instruction during weekends.

Her love of aviation and teaching was simply too great to hold her in the legal profession and when she was offered a role instructing for Sky Leisure in 1999, she took it. She enjoyed 5 ½ years working for the company before taking up the opportunity to set up her own school in 2005, which it seems has gone from strength to strength.

Somewhat of a ‘super’ instructor, Dorothy is qualified to not only teach the basic instructor course but also teach more advanced instructor training such as aerobatics, multi-engine, IR and instructor’s instructor training. Also qualified as an examiner she has two colleagues who support her in delivering the courses, Neil who is based in Lee on Solent and Mike in Redhill.

As someone who has a flair for writing, she has since reinvented her as a publisher. You can buy a complete series of Pooley’s ‘Learning to fly/PPL’ textbooks as well as instructor manuals and tools. Her instructor courses and refresher seminars get booked up very quickly and keep her busy throughout the year.

When not training instructors and examiners Dorothy is very active in the aviation industry. She joined the Honourable Company of Air Pilots in 1994 and in 2001 was appointed to the Court (or board), in 2002 she set up the instructor committee and in 2003 became Chair. That is until 2014 when she was appointed as a ‘Master’, and in doing so became the first woman to be appointed as such in the Guild’s history.

Dorothy Pooley

“I was different to other girls in my class”

It was at this point that the interview took a less jovial turn as Dorothy explains what drives her. “My parents felt education was very important and made a lot of sacrifices to fund us all through private education…I wanted to make my parents proud and that ambition meant that I developed a strong desire to get 100% in everything”.

It was a constant aim and she couldn’t understand why fellow female classmates didn’t place the same emphasis on results. “I feel I’m not good enough and I don’t think I ever will…I will keep striving to achieve better, greater things”.

She described how she felt like an outcast and was terribly bullied. But it didn’t deter her from applying herself to her studies and getting the best possible results. “I did very well at Maths but my regret is that Physics wasn’t my strongest subject and that still affects me now”.

One of 4 children with an older and younger sister it seems that teaching is something that runs in the family, her sister is a ski instructor and flute teacher and her younger sister ‘is a school and music teacher as well as a fantastic mother’.

You can see how much Dorothy loves teaching. It seems not only important to her to be very qualified and accomplished in her discipline but to also be effective in helping students realise their potential and get results. “People say I am strict…but I just have high standards, and what can be better than that?” she jokes. It is certainly apparent from the interview that Dorothy is an achiever. She is someone that will continually strive to rise through the ranks of the industry and is passionate about doing herself and women proud.

Women in aviation

I enquired why she felt so few young women explore a career as a pilot, and in actual fact, a great friend of hers, Clare Walker is a campaigner on that very subject. Chairman of the RAeS’s Women in Aviation and Aerospace Committee, Clare explained to the industry publication, Airport-Technology: “Part of today’s problem is down to the lack of visible role models.” She adds: “Most young women don’t believe women do jobs such as piloting commercial aircraft, as so few are visible or audible in the cockpit,” Dorothy shares her observations.

The subjects that assist with your pilot training fall into the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) category. It has long been recognised that woman are underrepresented in these subjects, with just 11% continuing to study these subjects at FE level. Observers note that making female pilots more visible is important, and Dorothy has herself taken her nieces and nephews flying – ensuring that they can experience first-hand what it is like.

An enlightening incident she recalls involves her Nephew at his Beaver club. “My nephew was pursuing his ‘air badge’ and drew a picture of his Auntie flying a Spitfire. The leader of the club called his mum, my sister and said, ‘I think your son has been fibbing’. She politely corrected the group leader and introduced me to their next meeting and I ended up doing a little talk about it”.

Lastly, I asked Dorothy what she would recommend to any young lady interested in pilot training, and where she should start, she said: “Join the air cadets, it is full of fantastic opportunities and a great place to see what flying is all about.”

If Dorothy has inspired you, pop her name into your Google search bar. She’s an incredibly accomplished woman with a long track history, successfully teaching pilots to instruct and winner of notable awards within the industry. It was certainly a pleasant 60 mins getting to know her a little better and feel we’ve only scratched the surface.

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