Detailed figures of women in aviation who hold US flight, mechanic (aircraft engineers) and dispatcher certificates and licenses are available because the Federal Aviation Administration is the only regulatory body to break out numbers by gender.
The latest statistics on the FAA Airman Certification web site shows the number of women in commercial aviation – who hold commercial certificates and airline transport ratings – is rising. Where women just a decade ago made up 2% of airline transport rated (ATP) pilots, they now make up 4%. “That’s double in a decade. University flight schools in the US are typically 10-15% female in their student composition. But many of those students, particularly the women, choose different careers,” says Amy Laboda, one of 16 founding board members (emeritus) of Women In Aviation International (WAI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing networking, mentoring and scholarship opportunities to women and men striving for careers in aviation.
Laboda notes that “airline flying [is] simply not for everyone”, and that WAI “still see flight school dropout rates in the US of as much as 70%. It is an expensive course with less pay and benefits at the end of it than ever before.”
While pilot work rules have strengthened in light of recent aircraft accidents, the path to achieve an ATP has consequently become much tougher for women, especially those who might be juggling child-rearing to boot.
The International Society of Women Airline Pilots puts the number of women captains flying for major international airlines at between 450 and 500. “Those are just captains. They are, however, beginning to distinguish themselves. One of American Airlines’ Dallas/Fort Worth chief pilots is Kathi Durst (former US Air Force). Memphis, Tennessee-based FedEx has Airbus 300/310 fleet captain Dolores Pavletic. UPS has captain Gloria Hatcher managing Flight Operations Compliance/SMS implementation, and the list goes on,” notes Laboda.
Will the gender mix in aviation ever be 50/50? “I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime. But I certainly see more and more women in the cockpit of commercial aircraft today when I walk through an airline terminal,” says Sanjiv Kapoor, COO of Indian budget carrier SpiceJet, which is actively recruiting women pilots.
Organizations such as WAI are playing a role. It provides over $600,000 annually for flight training and professional development to women through its scholarship program. A total 102 scholarships were awarded last week alone.
WAI also reaches out to the next generation of women through its Girls in Aviation days. The next event will be held internationally by WAI’s 94 chapters worldwide in September 2015. “We don’t take girls for rides in airplanes – we provide hands-on activities to excite them about learning about aviation and we bring in teachers, college and university recruiters from schools with aviation programs. WAI is about career advancement from an early stage. Again, the hope being that some of those girls will go on to be women in aviation careers,” says Laboda.
Membership in the organization is open to all genders. At a conference held last week, nearly half the attendees were men. Laboda says men “have figured out that the WAI conference is a great place to come to get an aviation job”.
But the influx of men to WAI’s annual conference has also garnered a mixed response. A woman attendee tells RGN, “I’m all for equality, but since aviation is still a big boys club, I feel WAI should better represent the first part of its name.” She recounted how she had to jostle with more aggressive men to get the attention of attending airlines.
“While there’s a growing number of coats & ties each year at the Women in Aviation International annual conference, there’s no denying that the energy, passion and dedication of women aviators of all ages is at the very core of WAI’s annual gathering. Every year, I’m energized by seeing old friends and meeting new female colleagues,” notes Kelly Murphy, Principal of Emerald Media, an all-woman public relations firm serving the aviation industry.
“There’s no better time to pursue an aviation career, as the demand is high for pilots and skilled technicians, so ladies plan to attend WAI 2016 in Nashville and get energized, too!”
What else is there to say? Get in there ladies!!