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Women In Aviation: The Sky Is The Limit

08/03/2017 15:20

all women everywhere

This year's International Women's Day comes at a crossroads for female pilots.

On one hand, of the 130,000 commercial pilots flying worldwide today, only approximately 4,000 - or 3% - are women. As in many other STEM-based industries, woman remain woefully underrepresented.

Yet with 617,000 more pilots needed to service the growing global commercial aviation industry by 2035, the need for more female pilots has never been greater.

There's no single reason for this lack of female representation. In some markets, certain cultural and attitudinal barriers still prevail, with piloting still very much seen as a male, macho profession.

Misconceptions that as a pilot you are inevitably pulled away from home for weeks on end - making it impractical to both fly and raise a family - also tend to put prospective aviatrixes off.

Many commercial pilots also started their aviation career in the military (again, male dominated) while others believe pilot training is inexpensive and inaccessible.

But the reality is that piloting is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding career paths available, and that gender and background are irrelevant in the skies. The job is about confidence, hard-work and desire.

I knew I was good enough for this job and now as a First Officer for Air Arabia, having had the opportunity to visit the likes of Russia, North Africa, Europe and the wider Middle East as part of my job, I've never looked back.

What can the industry and wider society do to get more women flying? The first hurdle to overcome is an educational one. Starting from a young age girls must be fully encouraged to pursue an follow through with STEM subjects, and female accomplishments in STEM fields fully highlighted and championed.

This ties into to the need for more visible female industry role models. Thanks to the gender imbalance within the industry, female accomplishments and achievements tend to get drowned out.

Yet from Amy Johnson to Valentina Tereshkova, women have a rich history within the aviation and aerospace sector. Today's inspiration is the likes of 26-year-old Kate McWilliams, who recently became the youngest commercial aviation Captain in the world. It is vital these women's' stories are celebrated as a means of inspiring the next generation.

The sector must also work harder to make piloting as accessible for women as possible. I was lucky in that my pilot training school, Alpha Aviation, offered financial assistance to students and a range of training methods, such as the innovative Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL) which can fast-track the process of becoming a qualified pilot.

I was also fortunate that Alpha Aviation identified the need for more female pilots (with some of their course intake being 20% female) which in turn afforded me the opportunity to learn to fly with other like-minded women.

India is arguably the shining example of accessibility, offering female pilots an extended support system that helps them balance their roles as pilots, wives, partners, mothers and daughters.

The result? A world-leading 12% of Indian commercial pilots are women. Yes, still gross underrepresentation, but the increased female representation in India is indicative of the importance of an institutionalised support structure in helping encourage women to fly.

Mindsets are continuing to shift and progress is being made. Recently a Royal Brunei Airlines plane piloted by an all-female crew landed in Saudi Arabia, a landmark moment in the history of aviation - and a moment of personal pride for me, as a fellow woman from a conservative Middle Eastern background trying to counter antiquated stereotypes.

As the number of women pilots slowly creeps up, I hope that a new generation of female aviators can step up as to solve the impending pilot shortage, and that progress can be achieved not just for women but the industry as a whole.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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