19-year-old hopes to be youngest woman to fly around the world

Zara Rutherford is on a global mission: to be the youngest woman to fly around the world.

Rutherford, who goes to school in the U.K. and is Belgian, comes from a family of pilots with her brother and parents in the cockpit, told CTV News she wants to inspire more women to join aviation.

“My entire family are pilots. My dad is a pilot, my mum is a pilot, even my little brother’s a pilot, so it’s really in my family,” Rutherford told CTV News. “I’ve been flying since I was born, with my dad with my mom. I just learnt that way.”

As of December 2020, the percentage of Canadian female pilots stood at 8.15 per cent overall, with 8.75 per cent working for private airlines, 6.59 per cent working for commercial airlines, and 5.83 per cent employed by a passenger airline, according to the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide.

“You never really see women flying. When you think of a pilot, you don’t really think of a woman, you think more of a man,” Rutherford continued.

Rutherford says seeing the gender imbalance in the occupation is part of what inspired her to tell her parents she wanted to challenge herself to fly around the world on her own.

The current female record holder is 30-year-old American Shaesta Waiz, an Afghan refugee. The youngest man to fly around the world – whose trip ended last month – is 18-year-old Travis Ludlow.

“So there’s this 12-year age gap, which I thought was huge between the male and women’s record,” Rutherford told CTV News. “So I just wanted to bring that closer and hopefully get the girls to compete with the boys.”

Rutherford plans to set out this month in one of the fastest microlight airplanes on the market, called the Shark Ultalight Plane, by first flying over Greenland and then up and down the Americas, over to Asia and back across Europe.

The trip is approximately 51,000 km and depending on the weather, could take up to three months to complete.

“I am trying to get girls to be interested in flying and aviation,” Rutherford said. “Really, the goal is to have someone they can say: ‘Oh, my god! There’s a girl flying. I’d like to do that too.’”

But Rutherford has even higher ambitions after her flight around the world, telling CTV News she hopes to eventually become an astronaut.