By Jaideep Mirchandani
“As the demand for commercial pilots increases, countries across the world can learn from India’s effort to support women pilots and elevate their aviation sector.”
On 10th Jan 2021, an all-women cockpit crew recorded the world’s longest flight for over 17 hours, the commendable feat was celebrated globally, cementing India’s position as the country with the most women pilots. With over 1,200 women pilots, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), women make up over 12 percent of all pilots in India, more than double compared to the US, the world’s largest aviation market.
While the industry faces a worldwide shortage of qualified pilots and numerous agencies cite the need to hire thousands of new pilots to handle the demand over the next two decades, countries must learn from India’s successful efforts. CAE Inc. (Canadian manufacturer of simulation and modeling technologies) indicated that the next decade will require 284,000 new pilots, which cannot be accomplished without greater women participation in the field. However, to replicate India’s model – a synergy of government-backed initiatives, multiple professional mentoring groups and employment incentives is needed to attract, train and retain women in aviation.
Indian Government’s initiatives like ‘Women in Aviation’, launched in 2018, focussed on increasing awareness of the industry, promoting gender diversity and providing scholarships and mentoring programmes. Indian Women Pilots Association (IWPA) also provides a platform to encourage careers in aviation by networking, training and supporting the professionals.
One crucial factor supporting the women is the inclusivity-embracing work culture at Indian commercial airlines. Domestic airlines offer flexibility to women pilots and crew to work safely during pregnancy and offer paid maternity leave as well as creche fees. Indian authorities provide financial incentives for airlines with a significant representation of female pilots. These incentives encompass decreased landing and parking fees, along with the allocation of supplementary time slots at airports.
The role of women pilots in Indian Airlines is crucial to the sector’s expansion and the future is bright for women to leave their mark in engineering and technical roles as well. At Pier Seven Aviation more than half the queries received are from women and since its inception, each batch has seen equal participation from women pilots. Inspirational pilots like Captain Aarohi Pandit, who set the record as the first woman worldwide to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean solo in a Light Sports Aircraft (LSA), she has earned her commercial pilot and will soon join a leading Airline.
While we applaud the change, we must recognize and resolve the challenges of discrimination and lack of work-life balance that might arise. Recently DGCA set up a four-member committee to offer suggestions for achieving gender equality in India’s aviation sector. This initiative also encouraged stakeholders to collaboratively promote participation of women and achieve the aspirational goal of 50-50 ratio by 2030 at all professional and higher levels of employment in aviation.
To ensure that aviation grows sustainably to meet the rising demand, an active effort should be made to incorporate women’s participation across all aspects of the operational landscape from engineering to communications and operations.