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Sky's the limit

Airline industry looks to recruit women to address the global pilot shortfall

By WITW Staff on January 25, 2019

As the aviation industry contends with a growing commercial pilot shortfall, airlines are increasingly looking towards women to help make up the difference. While the vocation has historically been almost entirely dominated by men — just 5 percent of current airline pilots are women, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISWAP) — dramatic increases in demand for air travel are compelling companies to broaden their hiring base.

The International Air Transport Association predicts that the number of air passengers worldwide will reach 8.2 billion by 2037 — a figure that plane manufacturer Boeing says would necessitate the hiring of 635,000 commercial pilots over the next 18 years. In order to reach that number, experts say, the percentage of women in the industry needs to increase substantially.

To that end, a number of commercial airliners have begun actively trying to recruit more women. European airline EasyJet has announced that the want at least 20 percent of their incoming pilot hires to be women by next year. Virgin Australia has gone still farther, telling reporters that they want half of their new cadet pilots to be women. Virgin Australia’s head of human resources, Lucinda Gemmell, said that nine of the company’s last 16 new pilot hires were women. But many women, recruiters say, remain under the perception that piloting isn’t a viable career path for a woman.

“On leaving school it [becoming a pilot] wasn’t really an option for me, there was very little information, and the perception was that women didn’t fly aircraft,” said Claire Banks, a 36-year-old who joined EasyJet as a pilot this year.

According to ISWAP’s communications chairwoman, Kathy McCullough, significant cultural changes are needed within the aviation industry before more women will consider it as a viable career. The biggest problem reported by female pilots, she said, was sexual harassment. A culture of silence surrounding such incidents, she said, was reinforced by higher-ups treating victims who report as troublemakers. In order to help combat that, she said, the industry needs something akin to its own #MeToo movement to change the culture and make it possible for more women to speak out.

Read the full story at BBC News.


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