Defending women in the cockpit with Alpha Aviation Group
Gender inequality in the aviation sector is not new. According to the International Air Transport Organization, the number of women in a C-level position is at a lower figure.
This is especially evident when it comes to women working on airplanes: how many times have you seen a female captain on your flight? How many times have you seen women work as flight attendants?
This is due to a series of socio-cultural and economic reasons. Not only are there preconceived ideas about the different types of jobs that women and men are more able to do, but also economic reasons make it more difficult for women to become pilots.
The situation only worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. To help address this, airlines and flight schools – including the Alpha Aviation group – are advocating for women in the cockpit.
Alpha Aviation Executive Director Bhanu Choudhrie explains the historical reasons for such an imbalance and what the industry can do to improve it.
Credit: Alpha Aviation Group.
Ilaria Grasso Macola (IGM): Why is there such an imbalance between the number of women and men pilots?
Bahnou Choudhrie (BC): Currently, only 5% of the 290,000 licensed professional pilots worldwide are women. This means that for twenty flights, only one of them will have a female pilot in the cockpit. Unfortunately, this gender imbalance has become a long established trend in the aviation industry.
As preconceived perceptions in society about the capabilities and suitability of individuals for certain roles begin to change, there is still a long way to go to truly challenge the long-held gender stereotypes that persist in the industry and for open up new opportunities for women.
Today, it is still widely suggested that being a pilot is a masculine job, and in many cases women are viewed with bias if they appear to possess characteristics similar to men that would make them suitable for the role. Today more than ever, it is imperative to review this state of mind.
IGM: What are the factors that contribute to the fact that women do not enter aviation as pilots?
BEFORE CHRIST: There is still a widespread belief that pursuing a career as a pilot is more suitable for men. This ingrained perception, coupled with the fact that there are very few female role models in the industry, makes it difficult for women to break into the industry. On top of that, the irregular schedule often creates additional problems for women who typically take care of childcare.
Social customs also play a role. For example, women are traditionally prohibited from working at night in the Middle East. This has made it extremely difficult for women to commit to the flexible work schedule required by piloting. Those restrictions are now starting to change, with Saudi Arabia leading the way and enacting landmark reforms that allow women to work nights, including in the airline industry. It is now crucial that these reforms are adopted more widely so that more women are encouraged to pursue a career as a pilot.
In addition, there are also economic barriers which can be just as difficult to overcome. For example, training to become a pilot has traditionally been a long and expensive process, and the financial cost may seem more pronounced for women, for whom a career path in aviation has not been mapped out.
IGM: According to research, in 2015 the number of female pilots was around 3%, it is now around 5%. What has changed over the past six years?
BEFORE CHRIST: Over the past six years we have started to see an increase in the number of female pilots which is encouraging and definitely a turn in the right direction. This trend has been driven largely by broader shifts in attitude regarding the types of jobs women find themselves in and by a number of pioneers who are raising the profile of women in aviation and demonstrating that there is a rewarding path to obtain a pilot’s license.
Alpha Aviation Group is proud to have trained Ghada Al Rousi, the first female Emirati pilot to fly with Air Arabia, a graduate of Alpha Aviation’s UAE platform and who is making progress in addressing this imbalance and advocating for women in aviation.
A number of training schools and airline groups have also made conscious efforts to implement changes in the way the sector attracts recruits and to make the process more accessible to women. For example, at our base in the United Arab Emirates, Alpha Aviation has started using the Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL). This is a shorter, more simulator-focused training medium that not only opens up opportunities for future cadets from less privileged backgrounds, but also offers a more flexible training program and a faster path to the field. qualification – reducing financial expenses often more difficult for women cadets to cover.
IGM: What can the industry do to close the gap?
BEFORE CHRIST: While great steps have already been taken to close the gender gap, it is crucial that the industry continues to challenge traditional stereotypes and empower women to pursue a career as an aviator.
First, positive female role models are essential. Our Filipino training center had its first 100% female cadet class, and the current number of classes is well above the industry average at 12% female. It is important that such achievements are celebrated within the industry and used to encourage more female cadets to follow suit.
In addition to this, better career guidance is needed. Air groups and training centers need to raise awareness of advocacy for women in aviation. Visiting schools and universities provides a great opportunity to help pave the way for a career in aviation for women and can help remove some of the barriers that previously deterred women from aspiring to be a pilot.
Another way for the industry to bridge the gap is to offer scholarship programs. The financial cost remains a major challenge and often perceived as a considerable risk. Providing financial support can help give women the confidence to pursue a career change and become a pilot.
IGM: What has been the impact of Covid-19 on the gender gap?
BEFORE CHRIST: Air travel has been one of the hardest hit industries during the Covid-19 pandemic. With flights canceled, fleets stranded and airports closed, many pilots were put on leave or made redundant during the crisis. This unprecedented upheaval left many people wondering if they should continue to pursue a career as an aviator, which put the gender imbalance under even greater pressure.
It is now important that training centers and airlines continue to work together to ensure continuity and a way forward out of this crisis. For example, we have worked closely with industry regulators to implement new training programs, including the use of e-learning, to help our female cadets stay on track during this time. hectic period. As air travel begins to open up again, there will be a renewed demand for qualified pilots ready to take off. Therefore, it is important for the industry to make an effort to support female cadets now and show them that there are still great opportunities to pursue a career as an aviator after the pandemic emerges.
IGM: In your opinion, will there be an increase in the number of women pilots in the short or medium term?
BEFORE CHRIST: Despite the Covid-19 pandemic which has brought the aviation industry to a significant halt over the past year, a recent report from CAE shows that the global civil aviation industry will still need 264,000 new pilots over the course of the year. next decade. If we are to fill this gap, it is essential to find a way to change the percentage of women in the industry and I hope this demand for pilots will encourage more female cadets to seize the opportunities that open up in the industry. .
However, we will also need to see a much more proactive approach from the major players in the industry to pave the way for female cadets. For example, the shift to e-learning not only provides flexibility for women who may have other societal responsibilities and pressures, but a lack of physical constraints will allow for larger class sizes and better access for all women who wish to register.
We are already starting to see an increase in the number of female pilots. It is now crucial that the industry continues to empower women to pursue a career in the cockpit so that this momentum continues to accelerate.