A few months ago, women pilots in the U.S. made headlines. “The number of women pilots has significantly increased over the last decade,” claimed the headlines.
After noticing that the great increase in the number of women pilots was driven by a change in the length of validity of student pilot certificates, I contacted the FAA to obtain statistics for 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010 so that I could take a look at the numbers on my own. So how are we doing?
In 1980, one in 4,224 women in the U.S. held an “other-than-student” pilot certificate; in 2010, the ratio had become one in 5,623.
Barely registering in bar graphs depicting the pilot population, the percentage of women pilots in 2010 is 5.39% of the pilot population holding an “other-than-student” pilot certificate and 5.15% of the for-hire pilot population.
High growth did occur, but it was between 1960 and 1980, a period that saw the number of women pilots go from 4,218 to 26,896. In 2010, there were 27,451 women holding an “other-than-student” pilot certificate in the United States. An increase of 555 women pilots over three decades.
There is some good news. Since 1970, the number of for-hire women pilots has increased at a steady rate of 3,000 per decade.
However, when we compare the progress of commercial women pilots to other professions previously male dominated, the progress seems dismal. Interestingly, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the percentage of commercial women pilots is half of the percentage of female boat captains and operators (8.2%), a quarter of the percentage of female police and sheriff’s patrol officers (15%), and about one eighth of the percentage of female doctors and surgeons (31.8%).
Many factors can explain the current state of the women pilot population and its slow progress. I invite you to view all the data and consider some of the factors by reading this article.