Europe’s largest regional airline has begun an initiative to bring more women into aviation, in the same week as the UK’s pilots’ union expressed fears that rising costs increasingly mean that only the wealthy can become flightdeck crew.
UK-based Flybe has launched “Flyshe,” a program that hopes to inspire young women to consider a wider variety of career options, such as pilots, engineers or senior managers.
Independent research recently conducted for Flybe revealed a gender bias in the roles to which children currently aspire. When thinking about future careers, girls were half as likely as boys to aspire to become an aviation engineer and four times less likely to want to be a pilot. Girls were also almost three times more likely than boys to pursue a career as cabin crew.
With the airline industry forecast to double in size by 2035, it is predicted that the sector needs 637,000 new pilots to meet global demand. Attracting talent from the 51% of the population not currently applying for these roles is therefore an urgent commercial necessity, Flybe said.
“Aviation is still very much a male-dominated industry,” Flybe CEO Christine Ourmières-Widener said.
“There are many reasons for this gender imbalance, but the main one is that the pipeline of female talent in engineering and piloting is simply not there,” said Ourmières-Widener, who started her career as a trainee engineer at Air France.
She is the UK’s only female airline CEO and the first of only two women appointed to the governing body of IATA.
Flybe is launching an online hub, www.flyshe.co.uk and will roll out several regional initiatives. These will include female pilots and engineers talking to pupils in schools. Flybe will also produce educational materials for schools, encouraging girls to consider high-trust roles as their future careers.
Meanwhile, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) is highlighting the financial difficulties facing aspiring pilots.
In the UK, prospective pilots are not entitled to government loans and their training can cost around £100,000 ($130,000). This means that, by the time they reach the flightdeck, they will be shouldering twice the £50,000 debt of an average university student.
BALPA said this high cost of training is a huge barrier for prospective pilots and can prevent those from less affluent backgrounds from considering the profession.
The union is lobbying policymakers and airlines to do more and is giving new entrants to the career a voice though its nextGen campaign, which is calling for funded apprenticeship schemes for pilots and the ability to recoup tax on their training courses.
“We hear time and again from young people who are put off because their parents can’t support them financially and they can’t get the money they need to be able to undertake the training,” BALPA NextGen Steering group member Dale Mudie said.
“It is very much a social class filter, with only a handful being able to break through, by nothing else but sheer determination.
“I funded my training myself by working full-time in a second career. My parents re-mortgaged their house to help me out. It really wasn’t easy and I will be paying back those loans for years to come.
“That sort of burden can put even the most talented people off.”