In late May, a passenger on Brazil’s Trip Airlines decided that while he was willing to live in a country run by a woman, he should not have to fly in a plane controlled by one.
to takeoff, he shouted: “someone should have told me the captain was a woman. I’m not flying with
a female at the controls.” The pilot agreed -- and she promptly
ejected him from the plane.
In the 78 years since Helen Richey became the first female commercial
airline pilot in 1934, nearly every industry in the world has seen exponential
advancement in career opportunities for women. Yet it seems that females still have
trouble achieving equality in the cockpit.
According to estimates
from the Federal Aviation Administration, as of 2010 only 6.7% of US pilots are
female. Other organisations such as the International Society of Woman Airline Pilots
(ISA) and Women in Aviation (WIA), estimate
that only about 3% to 6% of the world’s 130,000 airline pilots — more than
40,000 of which are based in the US — are women. In some parts of the world, the
number of female pilots borders on zero: Ghana, a country of 24 million, recently
licensed its first female pilot. Comparatively, more than 80% of US flight
attendants are women.
According to Jo
Halverson, vice chairwoman of the ISA and an Airbus A320 first officer for
United Airlines, the low numbers stem, in part, from the industry’s demanding
schedule which requires a lot of time away from family. In addition, much of the world is generations behind the US and Europe in introducing
maternity policies for female pilots.
Even in the US,
Halverson said very little work is being done to make women comfortable in the cockpit.
She called the climate at flight schools, where most students are young males, “dismissive
and patronizing”, and said this is part of the reason that growth in US female
pilots has been stagnant for more than a decade. In the 1960s, the number
of female pilots grew from 3.6% of all pilots to 4.3%. Yet from 2002 to 2011, the number of
female pilots in the US has only risen from 6.5% to 6.7%.
Teaching Women to Fly Research Project, commissioned by the Wolf Aviation Fund, cited instructor-student communication issues and
lack of female mentors among the top barriers that discourage women from
learning to fly aeroplanes.
In a recent
interview, Mireille Goyer, the founder of Women of Aviation Week (WAWW), agreed
that little is being done to improve women’s comfort in the industry. To change
that, WAWW recently began hosting events that introduce
women to flying, and will list flight schools that are
“perceived as women friendly” on their website. ISA and WIA offer flight-related scholarships to
women and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University has started a female mentoring
While much of the world has a long way to go, Halverson said the current work
environment in the US and Europe is good, and whatever sexism there is remains
mostly under the radar.
experienced it,” Halverson said. “You don’t know sometimes if personality clash
or if it’s because you’re a woman. But you do feel sometimes you have to be
better than average just to be an average pilot.”