Why are there so few female pilots?

On International Women’s Day, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) says that young girls shouldn’t let lack of visible representation put them off dreams of becoming a pilot. The organisation…


On International Women’s Day, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) says that young girls shouldn’t let lack of visible representation put them off dreams of becoming a pilot. The organisation says the only thing that should matter for wannabe pilots is ability, not gender, background or financial situation.

The UK pilot population is 95% male, with only 608 women in the UK holding a flight crew licence, BALPA says. The most up-to-date FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) statistics find that just 6% of commercial pilots are women.

Why the gap?

BALPA General Secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “The research in this area is limited so no one really knows why there are so few women pilots.”

“It could be that, with women still often being the main childcare providers, many don’t see the pilot lifestyle as conducive to having a family,” he added. “Another reason that could be behind this is lack of visible representation – so often we’re shown men as pilots, and women as cabin crew. This could be sending a message to young girls that if they want to work in aviation, it can’t be as a pilot.

“That is why we’re pleased to see airlines such as easyJet taking a proactive stance on this with their Amy Johnson Flying Initiative, as well as inspiring the younger generation by taking some of their female pilots to meet young girls through their partnership with Girlguiding.”

Girlguiding’s recent Girls’ Attitudes Survey found:

  • Becoming a pilot was named as being a dream job amongst 7-10 year old girls
  • 15% of 7-10 year old girls believe STEM subjects have the image of being more for boys, compared to over half (52%) of 11-21 year old girls
  • 76% of 7-10 year old girls feel encouraged when they see a woman doing a job they want to do
  • 42% (7-10) and 63% (11-21) girls would like to be a leader in their chosen job

Further, a recent easyJet survey with over 500 pilots found:

  • Visible role models who featured in childhood, like family members or pilots they met when travelling on holiday, were vital to inspiring young people to consider the career.
  • Both male and female pilots surveyed agreed that the most effective outreach efforts would be to work with school teachers and youth and community leaders to spread awareness of the career.

Training costs

BALPA warns that with increasing training costs, financial concerns are also putting talented would-be pilots off joining the profession.

Strutton added: “We are also concerned that increased training costs are also acting as a barrier to those from less fortunate backgrounds – this could see the pilot world become increasingly exclusive.”

“We don’t believe those who do not have the skills required should be ‘pushed through’, but we do believe the only thing that should matter in realising your dream and securing a job as a pilot should be your ability, not your background, financial situation or gender,” he said.

Aviation’s problem?

An article in The Guardian this week questions whether aviation is the least progressive industry, noting that Tui recently reported the largest gender pay gap of any major UK company, with female staff paid less than half the salary of their male colleagues. Tui said this was mainly due to the fact that few women hold highly paid roles such as pilot or engineer.

The Guardian article adds: “Across the industry, female cabin crew are still routinely directed to wear, along with make-up, restrictive pencil skirts and heels that leave some with bunions and back-ache.”

What do you think? Why the gap? Are things really changing? What initiatives have you seen to close the gender gap in aviation?

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