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Why are there so few female pilots?
28/Oct/2015
When was the last time that you heard “this is your captain speaking” from a female voice?
The reason you’re racking your brains is because there really aren’t that many female pilots.
Estimates from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA) say there are about 4,000 women pilots worldwide, of about 130,000, that’s just over three per cent. Another estimate, by easyJet, puts the balance at five per cent, with six per cent of its own flying staff female. British Airways says about six per cent of its pilots are women – that's 200 out of 3,500.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says that 570 of the British industry’s 9,846 pilots and co-pilots are women, which is just under six per cent. Bearing in mind the world’s gender split is about 50.4 per cent male, the disproportion is dramatic.
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Virgin's Love at First Flight advert in 2008 Photo: Virgin Atlantic
When Yvonne Pope Sintes became Britain’s first commercial airline captain in 1972, having worked her way up from being an air stewardess, she was told by a male pilot that if a woman ever joined he would resign.
It seems that the industry has been slow to change since then, especically when compared to other professions. Below are two charts showing the most male and female-dominated professions in the US. Statistics for other jobs are hard to come by, but for comparison in the UK - a recent British Medical Journal found that only 10 per cent of surgeons are female; there are seven female CEOs in the FTSE 100 companies (seven per cent).
Men at work - male-dominated professions
Search:
OCCUPATION SHARE OF WOMEN EMPLOYEES (%)
OCCUPATION SHARE OF WOMEN EMPLOYEES (%)
Stonemason 0.1
Drywall installer 0.3
Mining machine operator 0.3
Bus mechanic 0.5
Home entertainment installer 0.5
Fire-fighting supervisor 0.5
Tool maker 0.8
Heavy vehicle technician 1
Automotive mechanic 1.2
Operating engineer 1.3
Showing 10 entries

Source: Department of Labor
Women at work - female-dominated professions
Search:
OCCUPATION SHARE OF WOMEN EMPLOYEES (%)
OCCUPATION SHARE OF WOMEN EMPLOYEES (%)
Secretary 95.3
Childcare worker 94.1
Receptionist 91.5
Teaching assistant 91.1
Nurse 90.6
Bookkeeping 89.1
Maid 88.1
Nurse, psychiatric or home health aide 87.9
Personal care aide 84.7
Office clerk 83.4
Showing 10 entries

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
As far as the airline industry is concerned, the statistics mean you’ll have to travel on about 20 flights before you hear a female pilot’s voice over the tannoy.
This is something that a number of UK airlines are keen to change. Both easyJet and British Airways have launched campaigns this year to attract more female pilots onto the flightdeck.
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Carolyn McCall, chief executive of budget airline easyJet, told the British Air Transport Association (BATA) conference this month that the carrier intends to double its female pilot intake , from six per cent to 12, by 2017.
“We want to encourage more women to join and stay in this interesting, highly-skilled and well-rewarded profession,” she said.

Carolyn McCall, chief executive of easyJet Photo: Getty
“We will highlight the opportunities of pilot careers to young, female audiences, especially schools and colleges. There is already a campaign to encourage young women to take up science, engineering, technology and maths, which are useful subjects for pilots.”
In a push to encourage female applicants to British Airways’s Future Pilots Programme, the airline published research into what was discouraging women from becoming pilots, with two thirds of women admitting being put off the job. A fifth said they thought that women could only be cabin crew and one in ten said they were “told it was a man’s job growing up”. A fifth said they were discouraged by the fact they had only ever seen male pilots on tv and in films.
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Melissa Holland-Smith, a senior first officer and pilot at BA, who got her wings in 2001, said the stereotype of male-only pilots needs to be broken down if more women are going to enter the profession.

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