Ready for takeoff? More females training to be pilots

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By Denise A. Valdez

Ready for takeoff? More females training to be pilots
PROJECTIONS from Statista.com show Asia Pacific will have the biggest demand for pilots from 2017 to 2027. — DENISE A. VALDEZ

MORE WOMEN are earning their wings now, not as Victoria’s Secret fashion models but as pilots. Flight school Alpha Aviation Group (AAG) in Clark, Pampanga is saying it is preparing to train more women to become pilots.

“Women are equally stable, if not more stable, when it comes to pressure. And they’re a lot better with respect to threshold like patience. We would like to see the number of women growing, if not here in the country, or in the region, at least here in Alpha Aviation,” AAG Regional Director Cristopher A. Magdangal told BusinessWorld in a recent interview.

Mr. Magdangal said there has never been a regulatory hindrance for females to take the helm of an aircraft. He noted one of the most well-known pilots in history is a woman — Amelia Earhart, whose legacy is honored by AAG by naming one of the classrooms after her.

“It is just dominated by men because we have this stereotype, (this) perspective of the industry, that this is a place for men, that it’s a job for men,” he said.

Out of almost 350 cadets currently enrolled in the school, AAG is proud to note that more than 20 are women, and this number continues to increase.

Mr. Magdangal said they’ve been actively encouraging more women to join, with an initial target of increasing the number of female pilot graduates to 10%.

AAG is also seeking to become a chapter of the global advocacy group Women in Aviation. As its name suggests, the United States-based group aims to amplify the voices of women in aviation, not just the pilots and flight attendants, but also those part of the cabin crew, aircraft maintenance and ground crew.

“We are just one of the few flight schools who are really, really actively advocating and reaching out to more women so that finally, once and for all, the stereotype is broken. Women who have doubts in getting into the aviation industry would be given enough windows and doors to get in,” said Ruel G. Rombaoa, Sales and Marketing Manager of AAG.

“For all you know, the only obstacle they are dealing with is impression,” he added.

Whenever the company holds Airline Pilot Career Orientation (APCO) seminars in major cities, Mr. Rombaoa sees more female participants but many are still hesitate to ask if they could become pilots.

“We are accustomed to see women in aviation as flight attendants,” he said. “It’s no longer a man’s world in the aviation industry.”

Jess Vu, one of the female cadets currently enrolled in AAG, echoed the same sentiment.

“I guess you have to have that mind-set before you enter the industry. The fact is it is dominated by men. But then women are slowly taking places in the industry. And everyone is very supportive,” she said.

Ms. Vu, who is one of two women in her batch, said she has not experienced any discrimination. “I don’t think that being in a man’s world is anything difficult. To me it’s a very supportive environment, very good experience for me,” she added.

Data from online market research portal Statista.com showed there are more than 7,000 female pilots in the world as of 2018. This represents 5.18% of the worldwide pilot population.

“Less than 10% become a pilot. But think about it: the idea of you doing something not everyone can do seems to inspire me a lot,” Ms. Vu said.

Aside from its efforts to welcome more women, AAG is also working to get more cadets in general, as it prepares for a global pilot shortage.

Mr. Magdangal said although the issue is not as strongly felt in the Philippines yet, it is certainly affecting the whole industry. Aviation companies all over the world are raising concerns over a dearth in pilots, driven by high costs of education and unmet work expectations.

“In every training symposium that I attend to, pilot shortage is always the white elephant inside the room. People refuse to discuss this because of the impression of conflict of interest, especially the training institutions just like us. But at the end of the day, all will suffer. All will definitely suffer if this will not be addressed immediately,” Mr. Magdangal said.

To address the prohibitive cost of education, AAG works with banks to offer loans to interested flight students. For instance, AAG has a deal with RCBC for a Study Now, Pay Later program which has benefited 44 students since March 2014.

Projected numbers from Statista.com suggests Asia Pacific will eventually have the biggest demand for pilots from 2017 to 2027 because of the continuous fleet expansion of airlines in the region. It said the demand could reach about 90,000 in the next 10 years.

“The approach here must be very holistic, in such a manner that if our goal is to address this problem, a significant problem, I guess all stakeholders must work together. Not just the training institutions like us, but also financing partners,” Mr. Magdangal said.

Airlines should also start taking action, because they are the ones who will be significantly affected by a possible pilot shortage, he said. Regulators should also do their part in developing a more encouraging environment for pilots.

“Hopefully, I know that’s just a dream, but hopefully we’ll realize that (all) stakeholders need to work together,” Mr. Magdangal said.