How Women Are Overcoming A Male Dominated Industry


The aviation industry is facing a crisis. Due to rising global demand in passenger travel, freight transport, and private aviation in the coming decades, industry leaders are predicting a dire shortage of pilots, engineers, aircraft mechanics, and other key positions.

One industry leader recently predicted on CNBC that nearly 800,000 new pilots will be required in by 2039 to meet growing demand and to refill positions created by retirement. The same demand increase will also impact engineering, mechanical and maintenance, and aircraft production positions.

In this male-dominated profession, one logical strategy is to broaden the emphasis to incentivize more female candidates for these positions.

Impact of Women Pilots

In the 110 years between the first female piloted a motorized aircraft until the very recent all-female spacewalk, women have made significant contributions to the field of aviation. During World War II, notably, women played an important role as pilots and trainers, as well on the production lines of aircraft manufacturers.

Female aviators are Aviation Hall of Fame inductees, members of the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, and, more recently, Space Shuttle Commanders.

However, the number of women engaged in some of the key elements of aviation remains relatively small.

Women in Aviation

Since Helen Richey took the controls of the first woman-piloted U.S. commercial airline flight in 1934, the number of woman pilots has grown slowly. Outside of the important role of the flight attendant, there has been very little active recruitment and mentoring of women for other key jobs.

Aviation is clearly dominated by males in nearly every element of operations. In a 2017 FAA Aeronautical Center report listed on the Women in Aviation International website, women represent only:

  • 7.01 % of all pilots (42,694)
  • 12.89% of students in aviation training (19,219)
  • 6.14% of private pilots (9,971)
  • 6.38% of commercial pilots (6,267)
  • 4.38% of airline transport pilots (6,994)
  • 6.66% of flight instructors (7,105)

In non-piloting fields, women make up:

  • 2.39% of mechanics (6,855)
  • 18.71% of dispatchers (3,867)
  • 4.15% of flight engineers (1,432)
  • 7.41% of ground instructors (4,924)

Changing Landscape: Women in Aviation Advisory Board

The aviation industry and airlines now recognize that the future demand for qualified pilots, mechanics, engineers, and other key personnel openings can only be met by engaging more women in the business. Companies like United Airlines are actively developing programs to interest young women in becoming aviators.

Only recently, the FAA created the Women in Aviation Advisory Board to advise and encourage women to become more interested in aviation. Their mission includes:

  • Encouraging aviation groups to recruit women.
  • Providing scholarships for women.
  • Enhancing mentorship and outreach programs.

In addition, the FAA is accepting nominations for the Aviation Task Force to develop initiatives that encourage high school students to consider aviation careers.

Developing Leaders

While the aviation industry confronts a looming shortage of pilots and other key personnel, the FAA and many major employers have realized that a largely untapped sector of the population is available. Women have proven their leadership, judgment, and accountability in business, industry and other fields, including aviation.

Organizations are reaching out to females to play key roles. Training and mentoring programs will help to alleviate much of the hesitancy that women may have experienced in the past.

The aviation industry’s objective is for more women to fill key positions and become role models for other women. If successful, the percentage of women pilots, mechanics, and engineers will begin to change dramatically and gain momentum into the future.