Jetstar promotes Georgina Sutton as its first female chief pilot

Captain Georgina Sutton has been appointed as Jetstar's chief pilot for Australia and New Zealand, breaking the last barrier for female pilots at major Australian airlines.

She will be one of very few women in the world to have held the top pilot job at a major airline globally, joining the ranks of Captain Davina Pratt, the chief pilot at Irish airline Aer Lingus.

Ms Sutton, who will replace Captain Mark Rindfleish from February 2015, was already the highest-ever ranked female pilot in Australian aviation before being appointed to the Jetstar job.

Her appointment comes before a vote by Jetstar pilots on whether to approve the latest enterprise bargaining agreement, including an 18-month pay freeze, closes on Thursday.

Jetstar has separate chief pilots for its Asian offshoots, but Ms Sutton will oversee the largest fleet, with around 900 pilots reporting to her.

Jetstar Group's global chief executive, Jayne Hrdlicka, is also one of the few women to have run a large airline.

Earlier this year, Qantas appointed Ms Sutton as the fleet captain for the Boeing 767, overseeing about 180 pilots. But those aircraft will all be retired by the end of December.

Ms Sutton this year led a crew of four female pilots on the last flight of one of Qantas's 767s to a desert plane graveyard in California which was broadcast by Nine Network's 60 Minutes in September.

Jetstar Australia and New Zealand chief executive David Hall said Ms Sutton had won the role in competition with a number of high-calibre internal and external candidates.

"Georgina has demonstrated strengths in leadership, technical expertise, operations and shares our strong focus on safety," Mr Hall said.

Mr Rindfleish plans to return to full-time flying after six years as chief pilot.

Thirty-five years after Ansett hired Deborah Lawrie as the first female pilot for a major Australian airline, female pilots remain a relatively rare breed in Australia and globally at commercial airlines.

At Australia's major airlines, the percentage of female pilots ranges from 4.5 per cent to 9.3 per cent.

Ms Sutton was hired by Qantas in May 1989 to become a Sydney-based second officer on the Boeing 747.

Ms Sutton last month attended the Australian and International Pilots Association annual dinner which celebrates retiring pilots. Every one of the pilots that had retired from the airline was male.

In February, Ms Sutton said she hadn't found the male-dominated atmosphere particularly tough when she became a Qantas pilot because she had previously spent five years on the South Australian Police Force.

"I think I'd had exposure to a broad range of demographics and working in a fairly non-traditional role, so I was well prepared for that," she told Fairfax Media at the time.

Ms Sutton has spoken at a number of school career nights and her old Scout flying club to encourage women to consider aviation as a career. She also has served as a mentor for several women within Qantas.

One of her career highlights was flying Queen Elizabeth from London to Singapore on a Qantas 747.

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