Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Female pilots are flying high

This image of a group of all-female pilots who recently landed in Saudi Arabia — where women aren't allowed to drive — has been going viral. Shown are Capt. Sharifah Czarena and senior first officers Sariana Nordin and Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem, who flew a 787 Dreamliner from Brunei to Jeddah for Royal Brunei Airlines. The picture got me wondering about other commercial airline pilots who also happen to be women.

In all my years of flights, I can recall only two occasions when my pilot was a woman. Both times I was pleasantly surprised to hear a woman's voice on the loudspeaker. There have been instances when passengers refused to board a flight commanded by a female pilot, but I had the opposite reaction — I was more relaxed, maybe because my grandmother flew small planes.

But women are still dramatically underrepresented in aviation. Only about 5 percent of pilots are women, a statistic that has changed little in the United States since the 1980s, though it seems to be rising in other countries. It's strange when you consider that the most famous pilot of all time, Amelia Earhart, was a woman, and that women have long and storied history of flying planes. But a recent push for more women at the front of the plane has gotten lots of press, and it's exciting to see the tide is turning.

On International Women's Day on March 8, Air India flew 20 all-female flights throughout India and the world, including the long-haul San Francisco to New Delhi flight, which is a more than 17-hour haul. Not only were the pilot and first officer women, so were the flight crew, the cabin attendants and the on-board doctor — even ground staff including the air traffic controller, check-in staff and customer care agents.
15/03/16 Starre Vartan/mnn
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