We don’t often compare airplane pilots to truck drivers, but they might be more similar than you expect.
Even though professional (truck) drivers don’t transport people, airline pilots do transport freight. Both industries move products from shipper to consumer. In fact, pilots of 747s are maneuvering 18-wheelers around the tarmac and often carry cargo in their bellies.
Pilots can fly for work and or for play, but professional drivers aren’t considered to be representing their industry when they’re driving their own vehicles. Aviators can be professional or private pilots, and are often both.
The airline industry has been predominantly composed of men; just like the trucking industry. The percentage of female pilots is less than six percent, according to government figures. This holds true for the trucking industry as well.
This seems to be where the similarities end, as female pilots don’t share the sky with untrained motorists (i.e.: four-wheelers) and they aren’t expected to tarp, chain or unload their cargo (passengers). Right? Wrong.
The airline industry has been trying to attract and retain women as pilots, both professional and private, and they have not been successful. In fact, they have not exceeded six percent of the aviator population in over twenty years of trying.
A two-year research project included interviews with 157 female pilots to better understand the reasons why women are not attracted (or retained) as aviators.
The results are surprisingly familiar to those of us in the trucking industry, such as:
#1 Lack of money for training.
#2 Instructor-student communication incompatibility.
#3 Instructor Interruptions- Instructors leave flight instructing to take airline or charter service jobs often requiring the student to start over with another instructor.
#4 Lack of female mentors and support systems to encourage the female student.
#5 Personal lack of confidence in their ability and a “fear of flying.”
#6 Lack of experience with and knowledge of mechanical systems.
#7 Lack of map reading experience & orienteering skill sets.
#8 Flight schools perceived as indifferent to female students.
#9 Famous female pilots largely unknown as role models.
#10 Lack of emotional support from family & friends, who perceive flying as “too dangerous”
Now, do you think the airline industry might have some of the same issues as the trucking industry in regard to attracting and retaining women as drivers (pilots)?
Every one of those reasons could apply to women in the trucking industry. From lack of money for training to map reading skills to lack of support from family and friends, many of these are the same reasons women don’t enter (or stay in) the trucking industry. Confidence in the ability to drive a tractor-trailer and inexperience with mechanical systems pertain to both pilots and drivers.
There are 700,000 pilots and 42,000 of them are women. In the trucking industry, there are 3.2 million professional drivers, and about 180,000 to 200,000 are women. We’ve got them beat in raw numbers, but not in percentages.
Can we learn something from the airline community? Perhaps. As a woman who holds a CDL and a private pilot certificate, I find both industries intriguing. Sure, there are more men than women, but that doesn’t mean that women are outsiders. We’re not. We are welcomed with open arms by carriers and airlines. The salaries are comparable to men’s and the working conditions are improving. Why don’t women want to fly an airplane or drive an 18-wheeler?
Perhaps the answer isn’t as obvious as it seems. It’s not always the case that women don’t WANT to fly a plane or drive a truck (or steer a barge or a train). It’s more likely that women don’t even consider these careers because we don’t reach out to them and invite them to be a part of the industry.
The Women In Trucking Association is working on this dilemma by highlighting women who have been pioneers in the industry, honoring those who have been influential and giving recognition to all female drivers. The more we make women visible in these roles, the more we can urge the next generation to join us.
Sure, there are other issues to consider, but let’s show the airline industry how we can increase the number of women in trucking. We have more in common than we realize.