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Aviation needs to be presented as an attractive and achievable career option

written by Kate Richards | August 1, 2018
Author Kate Richards (right) with fellow Griffith University aviation students Abby Toten and Monica Gradwell. (Nick Muller)

Aviation’s representation in mainstream media and education, or lack thereof, is inhibiting females from realising that becoming a pilot is within their capabilities. One cannot simply catch the “flying bug” if your environment never delivers the inducive conditions.

I am a young student pilot who has recently commenced commercial pilot licence training from an ab-initio level. I also hold a Bachelor of Aviation from Griffith University and am one of the executive leaders underpinning the MATES student development program. Unlike many of my peers, I have come from a completely non-aviation family.

I fell in love with the concept of flying on my first flight to Sydney when I was five years old. However, it was not until a decade later that it became apparent that becoming a pilot was actually possible. The lightbulb did not go on until I went on a flight with a female captain. It was not that I thought females were incapable of being pilots, but it was that I never even knew it was within my means.

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The much-discussed and debated lack of females in aviation does not stem from women believing that they are incapable of being a pilot. It stems from failing to realise it as a viable option. I grew up believing that the profession of being a pilot was one that was particularly difficult to get into, which required the highest levels of academic prowess and a substantial monetary footing to support the endeavour.

Realistically, direct exposure to aviation for students of any gender from non-aviation families is more or less restricted to the occasional exotic holiday, or what they see on TV or in movies. A pilot personality sporadically appears in television, predominately as an authority male figure of privilege. There is rarely anything in mainstream media that brings the concept of being a pilot back down to earth, that makes the role appear relatable and paints it as achievable. Children need exposure that highlights the joy of flying. It is, after all, that feeling that caused all of us to catch the bug in the first place.

Becoming a pilot needs to be seen as a realistic consideration for a young student. That starts with receiving early-enough exposure in the education system to begin to identify a career in aviation as one worth considering. Early enough for the student to catch the bug. Wait for a fluke external factor to introduce the idea and it may well be too late.

The career itself has excellent benefits and benefits are important to this generation. Many high-achieving students have exacting expectations when it comes to their prerequisites in an occupation, and many of these marry up nicely with the profession of being a pilot.

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Generally, pilots are well paid, with many career paths including the opportunity to travel the world. They work in a challenging environment completing dynamic tasks. Pilots can also progress onto a wide variety of aircraft types with opportunities diverse enough to fit anyone. Aside from a fear of flying, there is little to stop a driven student considering an aviation career as an option once they know about it. It is aviation awareness and industry-specific education that are the limiting factors.

In my experience, aviation awareness was even lower in a female‑only school environment. I have had this discussion with many of my colleagues at university. Those who have come from a similar girls’ school background are in agreement. They reached their decision to become a pilot outside the support and career guidance their school provided.

In recent years, girls’ schools are making an active effort to promote STEM to their students. I was taught about the degree options pertaining to the niche, yet growing, STEM market, the pay scales you could achieve and the career progressions. We had these lectures every year. They were broad conversations and a variety of options from multiple universities were encouraged. However, in my experience becoming a pilot was just not raised.

Aviation is rarely presented as an attractive, realistic and achievable career option in neither mainstream media nor a student’s education. This is undoubtedly the largest barrier inhibiting females from believing that they can strive for and become an airline pilot.

In light of the ever-present pilot shortage, I am thrilled to say that media is finally beginning to back a shift in public perception. One that engages youth to consider and enter the aviation industry. The pilot crisis is now widely advertised. New schemes and opportunities are available, including esteemed airline level cadetships and defence force opportunities being promoted as financially and educationally attractive. But more work must be done in mainstream media to remove the notion that being a pilot is an exclusive career option.

There must be exposure at a grass roots level in a student’s education if the bug is ever going to latch on. If the pilot shortage really is as bad as it is proclaimed, then the entire aviation industry across the globe needs to see this shift.

If we believe being a pilot is the best job in the world, then why doesn’t the whole world know it?

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6 Comments

  • Trish kay

    says:

    Fantastic article Kate. Very well written and directly to the point.
    Trish Kay

  • Fiona Judd

    says:

    Loved reading your article, well written!

  • James

    says:

    I found this article a bit strange.

    I went to a standard co-ed public school with a decent reputation in a good area. We didn’t get any particular career exposure to any particular industry.

    Similarly, I’m not seeing any particular careers in any particular industry being portrayed in the media as “attractive”, realistic and achievable”.

    I am however aware, that airlines are incredibly picky, pilot training is incredibly expensive and that there are stacks of applicants for any position that comes up.

    This article seems to suggest that not enough people want to be pilots. The reality in my experience is that there are stacks of suitable people already wanting to be pilots. The airlines just aren’t recruiting them all – and if there is a pilot shortage, it’s because the airlines are taking enough people on, not because there aren’t enough suitable applicants.

    Also Airline cadetships and Air Force opportunities have been around for years. They are not new.

    I’m not sure why the female factor comes into this at all.

  • Cassie

    says:

    Very well written article Kate. Spot on!

  • James

    says:

    @ James

    Well said. Was thinking a similar thing myself.

  • Jeremy

    says:

    I think it’s incredibly important to ensure that an aviation career is also not just portrayed as a direct entry airline gig straight out of flight school and that GA plays an incredibly important role in Australia in forming the pilots of the future. Too many young people have embarked on their pilot training, accumulating enormous debts in the process, only to baulk at the first suggestion that they might need to leave a capital city in order to find their first job and that it won’t involve more than 1 engine or a G1000 cockpit.

    The vast majority of current airline pilots were born and bred in GA, not in cadetships. Most of them learnt lessons in their first 1000hrs that cadets will take 4-5,000hrs to learn because they won’t have to make a decision (and many won’t actually control the aeroplane below 20,000ft for at least 5 years).

    Encouraging pilots into doing their “apprenticeship” in GA is significant to ensuring that the future experience profiles of our airline crew remain diverse and deep, not solely based on flying a glass cockpit single and then a simulator. Making real life command decisions, on your own, in challenging environments.

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