When Shweta Singh wanted to become a pilot in India 20 years ago, she had to first persuade her parents to let her pick an uncommon profession for women, then deal with unwelcoming male colleagues in the cockpit.
Today, she says, it would be a much easier career to embrace. More Indian women want to become pilots, and more benefits await them: union-mandated equal pay, a safe workplace, day care services and a booming aviation sector.
India has the highest proportion of female commercial pilots in the world at 12 percent, despite the country’s patriarchal society, which typically frowns on women in such jobs.
“It was difficult,” Singh said, recalling her early days of being a pilot. “It was a male-dominated area and not easy to break into.”
But society is changing, said Singh, a senior trainer at Jet Airways Ltd on temporary assignment to India’s aviation regulator as deputy chief flight operations inspector. The percentage of female pilots in India is twice as high as in most Western countries, including the United States and Australia. Globally, less than 5 percent of pilots are women, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.
Demand for pilots globally is surging. Planemaker Boeing Co estimates a need for 790,000 new pilots globally over the next 20 years, double the current workforce, as air travel rises.
India is the world’s fastest-growing aviation market, with domestic capacity growing 22 percent in the first half of the year, so airlines there are under particular pressure. Recruiting more women is an obvious way to help solve the pilot shortage, but social constraints have worked against that, said Maria Bucur, a professor of history and gender studies at Indiana University.
“The training and stressful work needed to become and work as a pilot require choices of women that go against most of the gendered expectations our society has of them at that age: to have babies,” she said.
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First Published: IST