It was not until 1934 that the first American female commercial pilot was selected, when Central Airlines, a US airline company, hired Helen Richey. Unfortunately for her, the career she loved lasted just 10 months when the all-male union of pilots refused to accept her. Helen Richey also died young, aged 38 years, when she was deemed to have committed suicide in 1947 following an overdose of pills.
Fast forward to 2016, and there still exists a striking inequality between men and women in the commercial airline industry. Figures from The International Society of Women Airline Pilots show that 97% of all commercial pilots are men – worldwide there are about 4000 female commercial pilots in comparison to 130,000 male pilots. In the United Kingdom, the largest national airline, British Airways, employs only 200 female pilots out of their total of 3,500.
Certainly my own experience of teaching Aerospace Medicine to more than 18-years worth of students from the School of Aeronautical Sciences at PUCRS, Brazil confirms this disparity among the genders. Each year I teach around one hundred trainee pilots, of which possibly 2 or 3 are women. So why do so few girls consider a career as an airline pilot? And what can commercial airlines do to encourage more women into the industry?