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Eighty Years On: Where Is The Spirit Of Amelia Earhart?

04/08/2017 15:35 BST | Updated 04/08/2017 15:35 BST
Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images

Amelia Earhart's life was touched by genius, inspiration, adventure and tragedy. As the first female aviator to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, she remains a figure of awe for women and adventurers the world over. But Amelia was so much more than an aviator: she was an active promoter of women's rights, a best-selling author and will forever be the archetypal trailblazer for female pilots.

It is eighty years since she set off on her fateful final flight: a circumnavigation of the globe that she never returned from after disappearing over the Pacific Ocean. Amelia broke boundaries and left a legacy that nobody had imagined as being possible. The term is often overused but she was - to all intent and purposes - ground-breaking in her approach, her drive and her achievements.

But what now remains of that legacy? Her disappearance is, sadly, the most appropriate place to start, as despite eighty years having passed women are largely absent from cockpits: accounting for a mere 3% of pilots worldwide.

This gender discrepancy is even more glaring at a time when the global pilot shortage continues to mount. Last week Boeing announced that the commercial aviation industry will require 637,000 more pilots by 2036. I simply do not see a way of solving this without more female pilots entering the cockpit. We need the spirit of Earhart now more than ever.

What is most galling is the fact that women are so eminently capable of filling the gap. There are success stories from around the world: Last year Royal Brunei Airlines' first all-female pilot crew sent a powerful message about what Muslim women can achieve, EasyJet's Kate McWilliams became the world's youngest commercial airline captain at the age of just 26, and Air India became the first airline to fly around the world with an all-female crew earlier this year.

But do these very specific examples really do much more than paper over the cracks? Progress is stalling, and the numbers back this up. Aside from the exceptional cases mentioned, the gap continues to widen. It is hard to fathom how, despite holding such an illustrious aviation history, women remain such a minority. The talent is out there, but for various educational and social reasons women are is not being championed and encouraged, and their talent is not being nurtured.

I was fortunate that my training school, Alpha Aviation Group, works hard to encourage more women to move into aviation - and the numbers of female trainees was significantly above the global average. When I was ready to graduate, Alpha's relationship with Air Arabia meant that I was able to move into a role there seamlessly.

EasyJet also deserve credit, as they launched the Amy Johnson initiative in 2015 - aimed at doubling the number of female new entrant pilots to 12% over two years. They have since updated this to a target of 20% of new entrant cadet pilots being female by 2020.

These are the kind of attitudes that can make a difference, but if the rest of the industry does not follow the example of Alpha Aviation, Air Arabia and EasyJet then we will continue to fight a losing battle.

Women have such illustrious heritage in the aviation sector: from Amelia Earhart, to Amy Johnson, to Valentina Tereshkova. It would be the greatest tragedy of all to let this eminent history go to waste at a time when aviation needs women more than ever before.

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