It's Time for More Female Leadership in the Aviation Industry

The airplane is flying towards the sky beautifully.

With today’s focus on International Women’s Day, there’s no better time to shine the light on the current status of women in one of the most critical segments of the travel industry—airlines.

The airline industry, it seems, continues to have one of the most prominent disparities among gender. Female pilots are overwhelmingly underrepresented at just 10 percent of the pilot population.

In addition, last March, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 290 airlines and 82 percent of global air traffic, reported that the proportion of women holding CEO roles in aviation hovered around just three percent, as compared to 12 percent in other industries. (IATA itself has been criticized for being a boys club.)

To say there is a scarcity of women in aviation would be an understatement.

Yet, women have made some noteworthy and important strides in this arena as well, that are worth recognizing today.

Anne Rigail, Air France

The first female CEO of a major airline company was appointed in December. AirFrance tapped Anne Rigail to be their new leader, marking a huge historical moment. Rigail is the first woman to lead a major airline.

North America meanwhile, has the largest proportion of women in senior aviation roles at 16 percent, while female representation is lowest in the Middle East.

Some airlines are working quickly to improve workplace diversity, according to a Bloomberg report. Qantas Airways Ltd.’s senior management, for instance, is now 40 percent female, a figure that includes the heads of the international and frequent-flier loyalty businesses.

Meanwhile, JetBlue Airways named Joanna Geraghty president and chief operating officer in May. The move made her the highest-ranking female executive at a large U.S. airline.

At Southwest Airlines, Tammy Romo serves as chief financial officer, while several other women hold the title of executive vice president at U.S. carriers. In addition, United Continental Holdings Inc. recently named Jane Garvey as its chairman.

This past June, at SkyTeam, the carrier alliance, former Delta executive Kristin Colvile was named CEO.

While all of these high-profile moves are heartening, when the story is viewed via the numbers and percentages, it remains clear that the industry’s lack of diversity still runs deep and needs far more attention in coming years.

“Today, just eight percent of pilots are female, and with Boeing projecting the airline industry will demand 637,000 more pilots over the next 20 years, at AirHelp, we are looking forward to the day when female and male pilots will be equally represented,” said Natalia Laskowska, vice president of operations at AirHelp, the world’s leading air passenger rights company.

“As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we are proud of all the women who have left their mark on the aviation industry including Amelia Earhart and the many pilots that have come after her and will continue to lead the industry,” added Laskowska.

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