The Pilotress


A month ago I came into association with the General Aviation industry where life is all about charters, pilots, fixed wing planes, piston engines, maintenance engineers etc. Since we are in the gender equality era, I began to keep a check on the women in Indian aviation and pilots being my first target. The month of March saw a lot of newspaper articles on India having the maximum number of women pilots. So there was the first step to my research and to my surprise even after 80 years since Helen Richey, the first woman to pilot a commercial airliner, women only make up about 5% world pilots (Source: International Society of Women Airline Pilots – ISWAP). As per ISWAP, Only about 450 women worldwide are airline captains — pilots in command who supervise all the other crew members on a flight.

Take a look at this link: Becoming a Pilot: Women’s Guide . A beautiful book written by a woman to remind women that being a pilot is not reserved only for men.

The Indian Airspace:

The Indian airspace accommodates nearly 1200 women pilots today since Durba Banerjee, who was the first woman pilot with Indian airlines in 1956. Women in the Indian airspace have progressed from being employed as only flight attendants to premier cockpit controllers. Around 12% of the commercial pilots in the country are women which is significantly higher than the global average of 5.4 percent and outshines the percentage of countries like France, Japan and US at 7.6, 5.6 and 5.1 percent, respectively.

Indigo is one of the airlines in India that has not only gone aggressive in capturing the market share but also have contributed in employing the maximum number of women pilots. Below is a bird’s eye view of the same (Source: ISWAP):

  • There are close to 300 women pilots currently employed with IndiGo as co-pilots and commanders
  • The ratio of male to female pilots at IndiGo is 6:1
  • In the last 5 years the number of women pilots have gone from 69 to 300 till date
  • The airline has 15 women pilots in the managerial position of fleet supervisor and trainers
  • Two of its women pilots have been nominated as Flight Operations Inspectors with DGCA

Analysis of Pilots in India

Though India surpasses the number of women piloting its aircrafts when compared to the male pilots. The analysis below throws a light on the pilot licences issued by DGCA since 2011 with respect to the Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) and Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL).

Picture1Graph 1: Pilot Licences (CPL + ATPL) issued every year – Male vs. Female (Source: Directorate General of Civil Aviation)
percentageGraph 2: Percentage of Male & Female Pilot Licences (CPL + ATPL) issued every year as compared to the Total (Source: Directorate General of Civil Aviation)

The above two graphs throw a clear picture on the fact that the men still dominate when it comes to finding a career in the cockpit.

Why aren’t there enough women as pilots?

Though the gates for women as pilots opened long back in the 1930s, still it seems like a long way for them to meet up their counter gender in this sector. “Getting more women involved in all aspects of aviation is a nut that everyone in the industry would like to crack but that no one, to date, has,” said Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Why is it so? The answer to this question is more complex than it actually seems. It involves money, training, job realities, girls’ awareness about career options, and also a bit of mystery. Most women avoid flocking to a stressful male-dominated job that requires lots of expensive and continuous training, keeping them away from home for large chunks of time and making it difficult to raise a family.

However to conclude my article on a positive note, as said by Angela Masson, a retired American Airlines captain, “Flying has to be something that you really, really want, because even gender issues aside, it’s a very challenging and demanding career.” Moreover, airlines and flight training schools are now working toward dispelling the pre notions held by families and women, and making the industry more female-friendly.

Take a look at this link: Becoming a Pilot: Women’s Guide . A beautiful book written by a woman to remind women that being a pilot is not reserved only for men.

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