Viewpoint: Where Are The Women?

At 17, Anne Labbe, was the youngest pilot in France to obtain her Private Pilot’s Licence. Here, she sits in the cockpit of a Cessna 152 before taking-off on March 10, 2017 at the Yvrac aeroclub, near Bordeaux, southwestern France. 

Credit: MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP via Getty Images

Many aviation articles bemoan the fact that only about  7% of the pilot industry is made up of women, but they fail to explore the reasons why no less recognize ways to rectify this shortage.

And a shortage there is, as every airline is looking to hire more pilots, every flight school is looking for more instructors, and every FBO and avionics maintenance shop is hungry for qualified technicians. So why not get more women on board? 

Women can fill these jobs too, just look at the women trained by the military alone serving in this career field. These talented females operate and maintain jet engines and aircraft, repair the associated avionics in our tanks, ships, and helicopters, and manage people and organizations around the clock around the globe.  So the question remains: why is there a shortage of women in aviation?

Currently,  the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the 99s and Women in Aviation International, National Business Aviation Association and Aviation Electronics Association advertise in their own publications, focused on increasing their respective memberships.  No organization seems to be advertising in traditional women’s magazines, travel magazines, or sports magazines, all read by both women and men, to invite readers without aviation experience to explore aviation opportunities.  No advertising results in no candidates. Like fishing, one has to chum the waters where the fish are, not just in your favorite fishing hole.

AOPA has initiated and supported aviation education to our younger populace with its aviation STEM programs in our middle and high schools with great success. Similarly, EAA has generated aviation interest and planted the seeds for future careers in aviation with its Young Eagles programs.

But no one has targeted 20, 30, 40 and 50-year-old women (and men) who have the time and resources to pursue the challenges and rewards of an aviation career.  

For that matter, we have not identified a career path or program structure for those outside of our current aviation community to bring them in, educate them, and qualify them for the various opportunities within the aviation industry.

Even our training businesses and colleges only advertise in aviation publications.  What about the 50 million women out there who never previously thought about aviation as a career?  They are out there, maybe we should speak to them and get their perspective.
We must reach out to them if we hope to bridge this shortfall. If even one-tenth of one percent of the women reading their favorite publications would respond, we would be on the way to having more women knowledgeable about how and where to obtain information on aviation and becoming a future pilot.  

Whether utilizing the web, social media, subscription-based publications and/or contacting aviation organizations via the telephone or text, it’s a fact and retail merchants know it, that the key to attracting a good customer base is advertising.

Every investor knows it takes money to make money. We in aviation must do the same. Our organizations must lead the way.

Our aviation businesses must advertise, portraying the excitement passion and benefits of flying aircraft, traveling to distant destinations for business or pleasure or sport, and inviting women to the challenge of doing it themselves.

This is our challenge as well.  We must try knocking on their door.


Mike Sullivan, a Cessna 177 Cardinal owner, has flown for 50 years. He is a member of AOPA and EAA and has flown 150 young people in EAA’s Young Eagle program. He served 22 years in the U.S. Air Force, worked as a contractor for national security agencies for 22 years and served as a flight instructor for 30 years.






1 Comment
First it’s about money, guy I know just started as a new A&P for a FBO, $23.00 hr vs the $30.00 he can make building houses. Why get into aviation for less money unless you love airplanes.
Second I personally think women are smarter than men, then can get a job that pays as well in climate controlled pleasant environment, on normal hours and little to no liability vs working horrible shifts, in cold/hot hangars or out doors in very noisy environments with lots of liability .
Got to love aviation to stay in it, at least as a mechanic