Virgin Atlantic have a new TV ad out. It’s highly cinematic, glossy, fun, and game-changing in its celebration of diversity and individuality. It also ends with a close-up of a female pilot heading into the skies.
It’s an important image because the reality is that the cockpit remains a male preserve. A mere five percent of all airline pilots around the world were women in 2020. That figure is now slowly creeping up, due to a global shortage of pilots, but it’s a slow change.
Virgin Atlantic are hoping that in showing a female pilot in the cockpit, it will act as an incentive for other women, and to provide a role model.
Most global airlines are intent on diversifying. United recently launched a flight school with the aim of hiring thousands of pilots, half of them women or people of colour. Qantas launched the Nancy Bird Walton initiative in 2017, named after the pioneering female pilot and has substantially increased its numbers of female pilots.
But women are still slow to come forward. Releasing a photograph of Helen Trenerry, a Qantas Captain of thirty-two years, flying the first nonstop Airbus flight from Sydney to London was one of several moves Qantas has made in recent years to change that. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Trenerry. “Rather than talking about it, we put the picture out there.”
Virgin Atlantic have used all female crews on many flights to celebrate International Women’s Day, and now 22% of all those in their Future Flyers Programme are female. In the United Kingdom they are leading the charge.
But still more women are needed. “Not enough women embark on pilot training and it’s a real loss to the industry,” says Virgin Atlantic Captain Lucy Tardrew.
“The pilot shortage for the industry is real,” says Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines in the New York Times this weekend. “There simply aren’t enough pilots.”
Any female readers spotting an opportunity here? Women in India are. The country leads the world with the greatest number of female pilots according to Statista.