BORN
1953

INDUCTED
2021

CATEGORY
Uniformed Professions

THE HONOURED INDUCTEES TO THE SINGAPORE WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME

TEO AH HONG

First woman to qualify as a commercial pilot

Teo Ah Hong always knew she wanted to be a pilot. As a child, she was fascinated by planes. “I could not resist looking up at the sky every time a plane flew by, I used to dream and wish that I could fly,” she once said. “As I grew older, I had the strong desire and the determination to become a pilot.”

When in 1971 the Junior Flying Club was set up to start a pipeline of pilots for the Singapore armed forces as well as for commercial airlines, more than 3,000 students applied for the inaugural flying training course. After aptitude and other tests, 120 were selected. Only 17 of these were schoolgirls and among them was Ah Hong.

Ah Hong was one of the five girls who completed the six-month flying course. Singapore Airlines was then advertising for trainee pilots, so she put in her application and went for the interview.

“They called me up not knowing that I was a woman,’ she told Her World in a 1980 interview. “They said if they had known, they would not have asked me to see them.”

It was frustrating, she said, because they admitted that she had the right qualifications as well as the required flying experience. But the airline was adamant about only employing men as pilots.

She put her frustration aside and looked for some other way to create a career in the aviation sector. She found it when Singapore General Aviation Services (SGAS) offered her a place in their pilot-instructor course.

The only woman in the course, Ah Hong passed with flying colours in 1974 and became the first woman in Singapore with a commercial pilot licence. Shortly after this, she became the first woman instructor at SGAS.

In 1988 Singapore Airlines established the Singapore Flying College. Two years later Ah Hong joined the college as the chief flying instructor, a post she held until 2001. The woman whom SIA would not hire as a pilot ended up as the woman responsible for the training of the men who would become SIA pilots.

After she left the Singapore Flying College, Ah Hong spent some years as an instructor at the Singapore Youth Flying Club, and at the China Southern Airlines Training School in Western Australia before she eventually retired. She was asked several times to become a private jet pilot, but she always declined the job offers.

On retirement, Ah Hong devoted her time to the garden at her home in Perth and volunteered at a Buddhist temple. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and died in 2020.

Ah Hong was once asked how she had been able to persevere with her dream of becoming a pilot when she had faced so much prejudice. She answered: “Friends’ discouragement of my flying only served to spur me on. The most important thing in life is always to think and act positive. Nothing is impossible in the long term. With determination and hard work, you will succeed.”

TEO AH HONG

First woman to qualify as a commercial pilot

BORN 1953   INDUCTED 2021
CATEGORY Uniformed Professions

Teo Ah Hong always knew she wanted to be a pilot. As a child, she was fascinated by planes. “I could not resist looking up at the sky every time a plane flew by, I used to dream and wish that I could fly,” she once said. “As I grew older, I had the strong desire and the determination to become a pilot.”

When in 1971 the Junior Flying Club was set up to start a pipeline of pilots for the Singapore armed forces as well as for commercial airlines, more than 3,000 students applied for the inaugural flying training course. After aptitude and other tests, 120 were selected. Only 17 of these were schoolgirls and among them was Ah Hong.

Ah Hong was one of the five girls who completed the six-month flying course. Singapore Airlines was then advertising for trainee pilots, so she put in her application and went for the interview.

“They called me up not knowing that I was a woman,’ she told Her World in a 1980 interview. “They said if they had known, they would not have asked me to see them.”

It was frustrating, she said, because they admitted that she had the right qualifications as well as the required flying experience. But the airline was adamant about only employing men as pilots.

She put her frustration aside and looked for some other way to create a career in the aviation sector. She found it when Singapore General Aviation Services (SGAS) offered her a place in their pilot-instructor course.

The only woman in the course, Ah Hong passed with flying colours in 1974 and became the first woman in Singapore with a commercial pilot licence. Shortly after this, she became the first woman instructor at SGAS.

In 1988 Singapore Airlines established the Singapore Flying College. Two years later Ah Hong joined the college as the chief flying instructor, a post she held until 2001. The woman whom SIA would not hire as a pilot ended up as the woman responsible for the training of the men who would become SIA pilots.

After she left the Singapore Flying College, Ah Hong spent some years as an instructor at the Singapore Youth Flying Club, and at the China Southern Airlines Training School in Western Australia before she eventually retired. She was asked several times to become a private jet pilot, but she always declined the job offers.

On retirement, Ah Hong devoted her time to the garden at her home in Perth and volunteered at a Buddhist temple. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and died in 2020.

Ah Hong was once asked how she had been able to persevere with her dream of becoming a pilot when she had faced so much prejudice. She answered: “Friends’ discouragement of my flying only served to spur me on. The most important thing in life is always to think and act positive. Nothing is impossible in the long term. With determination and hard work, you will succeed. “

Photo courtesy of Singapore Press Holdings

Photo courtesy of Singapore Press Holdings

Sources:

  • It’s a dream come true for Ah Hong, New Nation 29 January 1974
  • Ah Hong flies higher, New Nation 12 December 1974
  • Meet Ah Hong the girl with ‘wings’, New Nation 24 February 1975
  • She didn’t get SIA job, but she trains pilots, New Nation 3 May 1980