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Passing of AirAsia’s first female pilot
Published on: Sunday, December 11, 2022
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In the AirAsia cockpit.
AIRASIA’S first female pilot, Captain Janet Chen Nyuk Jin, 66, has passed away.

Capt Chen passed away in the early hours of December 7 at the Gleneagles Hospital, Kota Kinabalu. 

She joined AirAsia in May 2002. 

According to an article dated January 8. 2006, she has gone down in history as the first Malaysian female to fly a commercial Boeing 737 after having successfully turned a hobby into a high flying career.

An old family photo with the only daughter Cheryl Fong.

In the interview, Capt Chen was quoted as saying:  “I am just a simple person who likes flying.”  

Playing down her feat, Chen said then she knew many female pilots who held private licences and it was just a personal decision whether they wanted to fly commercial aircraft 

She said she obtained her commercial pilot 5 in 1981 after a brief working stint as an accounts executive. 

After graduating from Monash University in Australia in the 1970s, the Economics degree holder said she had no idea what she wanted to do when she returned to Kota Kinabalu.

While looking for a job, she found out Yayasan Sabah was offering flying scholarships and applied.

“I was the only female among the first batch of successful applicants sent for a 13-month training course in Scotland,” she said. 

Chen, who is the youngest of four children, said while her father (deceased) was supportive of her decision, her conservative mother (deceased) was not. 

Chen later joined Sabah Air and during the next 21 years, took up various assignments, including flying the former Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik on a chartered flight.

Capt Chen in the cocpit of a HongKong Airline jet.

Capt Chen piloted a Cessna Citation, a small business jet.

She also flew emergency medical flights, taking geographers on mapping missions and photographers for aerial shoots. 

As a woman pilot in the hey days, the late Janet drew instant awe and respect from surprised passengers:   

“Oh, it’s a lady pilot! I take my hats off to you,” Chen related what clients thought of a woman pilot in the cockpit. 

She said she received a lot of encouragement, especially from men. 

Her stint with AirAsia happened after many of her friends and former colleagues encouraged her to apply for the job with AirAsia, which was looking for a female pilot.

She did and AirAsia’s acceptance enabled her to ‘venture into something new’ as the airline’s first officer. 

Things were just falling into place. The right time, right place and right people” the late Capt Chen recalled.

Chen said then she was grateful that AirAsia accepted her and hoped this would open the door for more women to become pilots.

“If you don’t try, you will never know whether you can do it” she said.

“But you got to have the aptitude to fly! That’s what we call it-the aptitude to fly,” she quipped. (Source: news/journal-2003-09- 23.txt)


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