Asia needs more pi­lots. Women to the front of the line

Asia’s big air traf­fic in­creases could open jobs for fe­male pi­lots Lim­it­ing the “pool to mostly white males has stran­gled growth”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - NEWS - −John Boudreau and Nguyen Kieu Giang

Sophia Kuo says she still hears the whis­pers as she walks through in­ter­na­tional air­ports in her EVA Air­ways pi­lot’s uni­form: “Wow, we have fe­male pi­lots.” “How does she fly an air­plane?” “She must be re­ally smart!”

More than 80 years af­ter Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the At­lantic, women such as Kuo, a 36-year-old co-pi­lot on the Tai­wanese car­rier’s Boe­ing 747s, re­main the ex­cep­tion in the cock­pit. Only 5 per­cent of pi­lots glob­ally are fe­male, says Liz Jen­nings Clark, chair­woman of the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Women Air­line Pi­lots (ISWAP).

Asia’s rapid es­ca­la­tion in air travel could force the in­dus­try to ad­dress that im­bal­ance. The re­gion is trans­port­ing 100 mil­lion new pas­sen­gers ev­ery year, says Sherry Car­bary, vice pres­i­dent for flight ser­vices for Boe­ing, which as­sists air­lines in train­ing pi­lots. To trans­port its new mid­dle class, Asia will need 226,000 more pi­lots in the next two decades, ac­cord­ing to Boe­ing. “There is such an enor­mous de­mand to meet the growth that the gen­der bias will have to be pushed aside,” Car­bary says.

Viet­nam Air­lines, based in one of the world’s 10 fastest-grow­ing avi­a­tion mar­kets, is cre­at­ing more flex­i­ble work sched­ules that take the de­mands of fam­ily life into ac­count. And fast­grow­ing U.K.-based EasyJet has set up a schol­ar­ship with the British Women Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion to un­der­write the costs of train­ing women pi­lots.

Re­cruit­ment ads for car­ri­ers such as British Air­ways in­creas­ingly fea­ture fe­male pi­lots, while EVA Air, which has about 50 women among its 1,200 pi­lots, has re­cruited from uni­ver­si­ties in Tai­wan with ads show­ing Kuo. “Find­ing ca­pa­ble flight crews isn’t easy,” says Richard Yeh, who over­sees pi­lot train­ing at EVA Air, which is try­ing to hire 100 pi­lots a year to meet de­mand. “We have to try to find more pi­lots like Sophia.”

At flight train­ing col­leges in Asia, the num­ber of fe­male stu­dents re­mains low. Fre­quently less than 10 per­cent of the 200 cadets at Malaysian Fly­ing Academy Sendirian Ber­had’s twoyear pro­gram are fe­male, says Stephen Terry, the prin­ci­pal. “Some car­ri­ers in Asia won’t even con­sider hir­ing women pi­lots,” Terry says, and oth­ers pro­hibit fe­males to avoid mixed-gen­der crews shar­ing bunk com­part­ments on long­haul flights.

To qual­ify for a li­cense to cap­tain a plane, you need to read, write, and speak English flu­ently; have thou­sands of hours of flight time; have no crim­i­nal record or his­tory of al­co­hol abuse; and be free of a long list of med­i­cal

con­di­tions such as color blind­ness.

“Pi­lot per­son­al­ity traits and ap­ti­tudes are rare within the hu­man pop­u­la­tion re­gard­less of gen­der or race,” says Mireille Goyer, founder of the Vancouver-based In­sti­tute for Women of Avi­a­tion World­wide, which ad­vo­cates for more women in the cock­pit. “Ar­bi­trar­ily re­duc­ing the po­ten­tial pool to mostly white males has stran­gled growth and led to to­day’s sit­u­a­tion.”

Some women face an his­tor­i­cal lack of sup­port for those who want to fly planes and raise a fam­ily. “Fly­ing time for fe­male pi­lots may be lim­ited due to ma­ter­nity leave or the fact they need time to take care of their kids,” Luu Hoang Minh, a Viet­nam Air­lines flight crew deputy di­rec­tor, said in an e-mail. He said his car­rier, which has 11 fe­male pi­lots out of 1,058, takes these fac­tors into ac­count and tries to ar­range fly­ing sched­ules that help women bal­ance fam­ily obli­ga­tions.

In Asia, where tra­di­tional at­ti­tudes to­ward a woman’s role are strong, it’s es­pe­cially hard for women to get into the cock­pit, says Kit Darby, a for­mer

United Air­lines cap­tain who works as a con­sul­tant. Be­ing a com­mer­cial pi­lot is still viewed “as a sin­gle man’s game,” he says. Even women who break in will have to wait years to as­sume lead­er­ship roles. Most ma­jor car­ri­ers re­quire flight cap­tains to have at least 3,000 hours of com­mer­cial fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence— not in­clud­ing fly­ing time dur­ing flight school. So women re­cruited to­day on legacy car­ri­ers wouldn’t be ready to take charge of a plane for 12 to 15 years, says ISWAP Chair­woman Clark, a cap­tain with Transavia Air­lines, a sub­sidiary of Air France-KLM.

Still, some suc­ceed. Viet­nam Air­lines Cap­tain Huynh Ly Dong Phuong says her mother was ini­tially re­luc­tant about her ca­reer choice, and she’s still some­times treated dif­fer­ently than male peers. “My dif­fi­culty,” she said via e-mail, “is mak­ing peo­ple ac­cept the fact I am a pi­lot first and a fe­male sec­ond, not the other way around.”

The bot­tom line Only 5 per­cent of air­line pi­lots are fe­male. Fast growth among Asia car­ri­ers could re­duce that im­bal­ance.

EVA Air­ways’ Kuo

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