Women airline pilots are increasing, but there remains considerable work to counter the imbalance

As delegates have convened for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Global Aviation Gender Summit in Cape Town, South Africa, a new insight report from CAPA – Centre for Aviation has revealed just how wide the gender gap for pilots in the aviation sector. The trusted source of market intelligence for the aviation and travel industry explains that in the US and UK just over 4% of airline pilots are women and while the share is growing, it is a slow process.


  • While the number and share of women airline pilots across the globe are rising, its a slow process and much work is still required to counter the imbalance;
  • Official data from the USA and UK puts the percentage of women airline pilots at 4.4% and 4.3%, respectively;
  • According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISWAP), the big three US majors have the highest number of women pilots;
  • ISWAP says IndiGo has the highest proportion of women pilots,  just 20 airlines employ more than 100 female pilots with the regional aviation sector having a higher penetration.

CAPA has been active in reviewing the issue of women in airline management over the years, but the trends leave few grounds for encouragement. “In spite of the significant contribution to aviation made by a large number of women over more than a century, aviation still has a long way to go in pilot gender equality,” it says.

It is unclear just how many female pilots there are across the aviation sector as consistent global data on women airline pilots does not exist. In fact, CAPA highlights that the background papers for the Global Aviation Gender Summit incorrectly used a figure of 5.18% from the Airline Pilots Association International as a global ratio, but this simply represents pilots in the USA and Canada.

The US is a market where we can get some idea on the level of women pilots. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), across all pilot categories there was a total of 42,694 active pilot certificates held by women in the US at 31-Dec-2017. This is 7.0% of all pilots (note that this includes students, which account for more than 19,000 women, in addition to private pilots, airline pilots and commercial pilots not employed by airlines). Focusing on just the airline sector, there were 6,994 women holding FAA certificates as airline pilots, representing just 4.4% of the total.

CHART – Analysis from CAPA – Centre for Aviation highlights the women pilots’ share of all pilot jobs across the US is growing, but by less than one percentage point over the past 10 yearsSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and US Federal Aviation Administration

Data from the United Kingdom shows a similar pattern with official material from the UK Civil Aviation Authority at 31-Dec-2016 (the most recent date for which data are available), showing 4.3% of UK airline pilots were female, similar to the proportion in the US. Again, this is small, but a growing level – up from 3.4% at 1-Jan-2008.

According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, which gathers and publishes some data on the number of female pilots by airline across different countries, the big three US majors have the highest number of women pilots. Across its data from 79 airlines across the world it says there are 7,468 women pilots, which equates to 5.2% of the total. Of these, only 1,393 are captains (18.7% of the women pilots).

This figure is markedly higher than those from the UK and USA, but as CAPA’s report highlights it will likely reflect some self-selection bias. “Airlines making their data available to the ISWAP may be more likely to have a higher ratio of women pilots,” it explains.

The ISWAP data does deliver some interesting observations, notably that Indian LCC IndiGo has the highest proportion of women pilots at 13.9%, while just 20 airlines across the globe that share data employ more than 100 female pilots. The regional aviation sector appears to have a greater level of women pilots with Qantas subsidiaries Network Aviation and QantasLink; Canada’s Porter Airlines, Wasaya and Air Georgian; and South African Express all having a double digit percentage of pilot jobs taken by women.

The Blue Swan Daily reported last month that CAE had revealed it would invest around USD1 million a year in a new CAE Women in Flight scholarship programme, demonstrating its own commitment to promoting the advancement of women in the aviation industry. This will see it award up to five full scholarships for female pilots to one of CAE’s cadet pilot training programmes across its global training network.

The issue of women in senior airline management is even more dire and The Blue Swan Daily produced a series of reports (USA, Europe, Middle East & Africa and Asia Pacific) earlier this year noting the lack of women airline leaders. While, we are seeing some signs of improvement there remains a long way to balancing the scales. As CAPA notes in its insight “clearly there is no silver bullet”. But at least creating greater awareness and constantly challenging the status quo must eventually have some impact.

More Like this