There has never been a better time for young women to take to the skies by pursuing a career as a pilot.
A combination of a pronounced global pilot shortage, changing attitudes to women flying and more training opportunities than ever before means budding female pilots can, with drive and determination, fulfil their ambitions.
Currently, there are approximately 130,000 commercial pilots flying worldwide. Boeing has estimated that by 2035, 617,000 more commercial pilots will be required to satisfy industry demand. It is vital therefore that more young women are encouraged to pursue piloting as a career, as a means of ensuring the growth of the industry.
Overcoming attitudinal hurdles
The first hurdle for budding aviatrixes to overcome is an attitudinal one. As with many STEM-based careers, there is still a certain stigma that aviation is primarily the domain of men. The statistics are fairly damning - just 3% of global commercial airline pilots are female. Yet my experiences show that with the right attitude women can, and are, shaking up the industry.
Mindsets around female pilots are shifting, hugely. Many people are surprised that, coming from a conservative background in the Middle East, I have been able to fulfil my career aspirations in the aviation sector.
But more and more young women are realising that it is possible; recently a Royal Brunei Airlines plane piloted by an all-female crew landed in Saudi Arabia, a landmark moment in the history of aviation. The world’s youngest commercial airline captain was also recently revealed not only to be just 26 years of age, but also a woman.
Ultimately, women must be confident and assured in the knowledge that piloting a plane isn’t about gender. In my case, I knew being a pilot was right for me. I told myself I was able enough to do the job and now, as a first officer for Air Arabia, I’ve never looked back.
It is true that you will encounter a very small number of people who do not think women belong in the cockpit. These stigmas aren’t limited to one part of the world. Across the globe, women are vastly under-represented not just in the cockpit but in wider STEM careers.
This might seem off-putting to some people but for me it has never been anything more than motivation to prove these people wrong. And my own journey reassures me that we are getting ever closer to a real breakthrough.
A second hurdle is that pilot training itself can be an intimidating prospect - not least the financial demands and the difficulty and toil involved in the training itself. Of course, it isn’t easy – and you must be fully committed.
Yet there are now so many reputable training schools to complement the programmes already put in place by airlines, that young pilots have a range of options to find what suits them best. My old training school, Alpha Aviation, offers financial assistance to students and there are also several pioneering licences, like the Multi-Crew Pilot License, which can speed up the process of becoming a qualified pilot.
My instructors at Alpha Aviation were never anything less than absolutely supportive of me. So too have been my family and friends – everyone has wanted me to succeed every step of the way. In a strange way, this support is maybe the hardest part of the path to becoming a pilot – it’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders when you know so many people want you to do well!
Confidence in studying STEM
The third hurdle to overcome is perhaps the most important; ensuring that women and young girls have the confidence to study STEM subjects, and are encouraged to do so by governments, schools, and wider society from an early age. I have been very lucky in that my government in the UAE has fully supported me, but this isn’t always the case around the world.
If our societies cannot encourage and give confidence to young girls to study science-based subjects beyond early education, what hope do these girls have of becoming pilots? These same girls must, in turn, have the confidence to know that if you want a STEM-based career, then you must go for it. They mustn’t listen to anyone who tells them that they can’t.
The opportunities that a career in piloting opens are genuinely life-changing. Just look at the places I’ve visited: Russia, Qatar, Bahrain, Pakistan, Kenya, Turkey, India and London. It’s amazing to work in a job that allows you to explore so much of the world.
I hope that more young women will be as lucky to experience what I have experienced in my short time in aviation. If women work to keep challenging perceptions and believing in themselves, they will be a fantastic asset to the world of aviation.
Ghada Al-Rousi, Alpha Aviation Academy graduate and Air Arabia First Officer