Why women now hold the key to the aviation sector
Air Arabia first officer, Ghada Mohamed Al Rousi, issues a rallying cry to young women around the world, as concern mounts within the commercial aviation industry over a looming global pilot shortage.
There has never been a better time to build a career in the aviation industry. Airlines are growing, with more aircraft, more flights, more routes and more passengers than ever before. Nowhere is this truer than in the Middle East and Asia, where the growth of the middle-class is generating considerable industry growth.
But if this progress is to be maintained, the sector must address the one area where growth is stalling: pilot numbers.
Currently, there are approximately 130,000 commercial pilots flying worldwide. Boeing has estimated that, by 2034, 558,000 more commercial pilots will be needed to meet the growth of the industry. Yet currently just 3% of commercial pilots are female. If the demand for more pilots is to be met, this statistic has to change.
The reasons for a lack of female pilots are varied. In some markets, certain cultural and attitudinal barriers still exist, with piloting still very much seen as a ‘male’ profession. Similarly, there exists a misconception that all pilots are forced on to long-haul trans-continental flights, pulling you away from home for weeks on end – and, therefore, making it impractical to both fly and raise a family.
But piloting a plane shouldn’t be about gender. It is about hard work, ability and desire. 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.
I have been lucky in that, in the UAE, the country is supportive of women like me who are looking to break down barriers and balance family life with a career. The importance of this encouragement for young women looking to become pilots cannot be emphasised enough – whether it be from family, government or wider society.
Overall, mind-sets are starting to shift. 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.
That’s not to say that becoming a pilot is easy. I undertook the multi-crew pilots licence (MPL), which develops the abilities needed to fly in a multi-crew airline environment and takes more advantage of flight simulators than a traditional commercial pilot licence. The MPL seemed the right choice, as it is increasingly becoming the preferred training method for many global airlines.
Again, I was grateful for and encouraged by the support of the academy where I learnt to fly. Alpha Aviation UAE, based in Sharjah, is aware of both the growing shortage of pilots and the lack of female pilots. As a result, some of the Alpha Aviation Group courses have been up to 20% female intake.
The first three months were gruelling and the instructors were firm. They will identify your weak points as a cadet and specifically improve you in those areas. I graduated as the first Emirati holder of the MPL, and I hope I can serve as an example and inspiration to many other budding aviatrixes.
The barriers that might once have prevented women from flying a plane are disappearing and, most importantly, the aviation sector now needs female pilots. Pilot supply is falling short of demand and will continue to do so unless a solution is found.
Of course, some women will never start pilot training: they might not be able to afford the course and, sadly, some families might still not accept that it is a job for women. But governments and airlines now have a duty to educate people on the possibilities of women becoming commercial airline pilots, and women have a duty to pursue their dreams. If you want this job enough, then you simply have to go for it. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t.
This is a crossroads for the aviation sector. We can either be pro-active in bringing a whole new demographic into the cockpit to solve the impending pilot shortage crisis, or we can watch some of the most talented women of our generation move into other fields.
I am proud to serve my country in this job every day and my country shows its pride by supporting me. It is time for more countries and more women to follow suit.