Inspiring and supporting women pilots…
“No borders, just horizons-only freedom” – Amelia Earhart
by Mark Baker
AOPA President & CEO
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2019 issue
In the early twentieth century, Amelia Earhart defied the odds when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was and still is considered a champion for women in aviation having set record after record in her short life. History books, biographies, and documentaries classify her as a great female aviator, and her legacy lives on in the countless women who prove that a “great female pilot” is simply a great pilot.
Even though we live in the twenty-first century, women working in male-dominated industries deal with belittlement every day. In 2018, a young female pilot’s tweet went viral for calling out male passengers who made jokes about her gender saying they wouldn’t have boarded had they known she was flying. But it’s clear the pilot had the last laugh after tweeting “Fact is, I can fly an £80m jet, you can’t.”
Although women make up 7 percent of pilots, they are continuing to inspire new generations of girls to write their own history and be a part of this amazing experience we call flying. As fellow pilots striving to make GA more accessible, it’s our job to welcome them. But the industry hasn’t always been so inclusive and, historically, women have had to overcome challenges and break through barriers.
That’s why it’s important for the GA community to change that perception. We should take more initiative to welcome female pilots and those who show interest in this great hobby of ours. To quote champion aerobatic aviatrix Patty Wagstaff on gender: “Do you think the airplane knows or cares?”
AOPA is working to inspire a new generation of youth to pursue careers in aviation with its high school aviation science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum. Especially for young people and students who don’t come from an aviation family, the high school classes can become a starting point. The You Can Fly curriculum is designed to instill the love of flying in young people as our industry faces an ever-present pilot and workforce shortage.
So far, I am very proud of the curriculum effort. The program has exceeded our expectations with nearly 2,000 enrolled students, of which 25 percent are female and 51 percent are minorities.
But there is still more work to be done. As a community of pilots, we should strive toward a future where a woman’s voice on the radio, presence in the cockpit, or gold epaulets on her shirt, isn’t shockingly out of the ordinary.