Another large international airline is due to suffer a period of pilot strikes again, while other areas of the industry are struggling under the pressure of almost back-to-normal demand, but way below normal staff numbers. In the midst of all this, it is good to highlight the positive hints that aviation is continuing to develop and for the better.
The year 2022 began with a world record smash: On 20JAN22, aged just 19, British-Belgian teenager, Zara Rutherford, became the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world alone in a plane: A journey that had begun in AUG21 and demanded resilience in the face extreme risk and a number of delays down to Russian visa delays and adverse weather conditions. What should have taken three-months, became a challenging five-month odyssey and a story that went around the world. The head teacher of Zara’s school put it into words in a BBC article at the time: “Fifty of our own students have been inspired by Zara to have a go at flying, and I am sure that her example will serve as inspiration for many more young women around the world.”
Brother does the same
One person to immediately follow in her footsteps, was her own brother, Mack Rutherford, who last week became both the youngest male and youngest person ever to fly solo around the world, aged just 17. He, too, had a five-month, 54,124 km journey behind him when he landed in Sofia, Bulgaria on 24AUG22, where he had taken off on 23MAR22 – and one that had required quick-thinking, courage, and perseverance. “There were many points in my journey where it would have been easy to give up,” he told Reuters reporters, “But I kept going, even when it seemed like I wouldn't be able to make it to the end.”
“Aviation is gender-blind”
Last week saw yet another pilot first: Just in time for 28AUG22, which happens to be Emirati Women’s Day, Etihad highlighted Aisha Al Mansoori as the UAE’s first female Emirati commercial Captain. She will take up her new role on 28AUG22 and has been flying for Etihad since OCT07 – at the time of joining, she was one of only two UAE national females. Mohammad Al Bulooki, Chief Operating Officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said, "Etihad is extremely proud of Captain Aisha’s achievement and the trailblazing role she is playing for women in aviation in the UAE. She will no doubt be the first of many, and Etihad looks forward to welcoming more female pilots to the rank of Captain in the future. […] Aviation is gender blind, and to prove oneself, Etihad’s pilots undergo intensive exams and meet strict requirements on flying hours to ensure the highest standards of training in international aviation are upheld. Aisha earned her rank and will no doubt inspire her fellow Emiratis and young women around the world to follow their dreams in aviation.” A positive step in a region that still has a lot of catching up to do, along with most of the world, when it comes to women in aviation. And one that will be monitored with interest, for confirmation of the gender-blind claim. The current global average of female pilots lies at 5%, with India taking the lead by far at over 12.4% as the only country in double figures, and the UAE not yet among the top 10.
Which is why there are initiatives such as Leading Ladies in Aviation and Women in Aviation and Logistics endorsing the (non-paid) Mckay Unlimited Glass Breaker Awards, and calling for “nominations (by 15SEP22) of exceptional women and men in the aerospace sector to celebrate their achievements in 4 categories”:
- Glass Breaker of the Year Award: for a woman who achieved an impressive growth in her career over the past year
- Sisterhood Award: for a woman who has supported female peers
- Advocate of the Year Award: for a woman who has advanced gender balance in her company and beyond
- Male Ally of the Year Award: for a male supporter who has taken significant action for women in the workplace
Though neither an awards nor a segregation/categorization fan myself, these actions are helping to encourage a change in the industry and society, which currently mainly has an image of a 35-55-year-old, white male in a uniform with 4 stripes on his sleeve at the mention of the word “pilot”. And, judging by the heavily male-dominated speaker line-up of a number of upcoming air cargo conferences that CFG will be participating in, these awards are still very necessary to trigger permanent change.
Role models and investment
Zara and Mack come from an aviation-focused family and have been exposed to and encouraged in the industry from day one. A sound financial basis will also have helped a great deal. Media exposure highlighting industry firsts in employee development and drawing attention to those who mentor and support promising talent, are important in bringing the industry to a much wider audience. Hence, role models and investment are the key to attracting talent to the industry, and should be part of every aviation and air cargo logistics company’s strategy.
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