Dear Aviator,

do you still remember the good old days in aviation before the novel coronavirus hit us? It was a booming industry with a constantly increasing demand for air travel, new jets with the most modern technology that could fly to the furthest destinations, and business class which could have been first class. Airlines were bracing for a severe pilot shortage. For now, this problem is solved but for the long term, it will arise again but why? The lack of diversity in the cockpit could be the reason.

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Thank you, Corona

Covid-19 came around the corner and destroyed aviation in a second. In one second the demand for pilots was gone. Even worse bankruptcy, lower demand, smaller fleets, low liquidity have been causing a lot of pilots to lose their jobs already.

I think it will take about two years until we are back at the same level as before Corona. We can expect during this period to be very low, with almost no demand for pilots. Step by step the demand will rise again. Let’s hope it will only be a very long low before aviation takes off again to the same level. In case no other factor will torpedo the business, the 2019 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook projects that 804,000 new civil aviation pilots are required to maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years.

Why do airlines have to brace for a pilot shortage?

There are many reasons for the anticipated pilot shortage. It is a mix of increasing regulation, growing demand for air travel, fleet growth, and an aging workforce. Pilots have to stop flying commercially latest with the age of 65. But there’s one cause that also offers a solution:

The industry has long struggled to recruit women, people of color, and members of other marginalized groups.

The lack of diversity in the cockpit

In 2008 I started my training to become a pilot. At the time I already noticed the lack of diversity in aviation. Back then the flight school was called Intercockpit, which is now the European Flight Academy, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Aviation Training. My course consisted of 25 men and only one woman!

During one of my first lessons with the DA20, my flight instructor looked at me and said:

“Patrick, you have to know: Women and black people have no place in the cockpit!”.

At that moment I was more busy concentrating on the approach than thinking about his discriminating statement.

The lack of diversity continued with my first pilot job. It was a small charter company with business jets in Berlin. The fleet consisted of about 10 jets and only white men were working in the cockpit. Not one single woman in the cockpit only in the cabin.  My second private jet employer had a fleet that was double the size and had at least two women flying.

I found that women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community were significantly underrepresented, this did not change when I switched to a big german airline in 2016. Less then 3% of the flight crew were women and I have not seen a black colleague. After flying for 6 years, it was the first time I flew with a female captain.

Current statistics

These are really no exceptions. Statistics prove my numbers. A review of the latest Civil Airmen Statistics indicates that a little over 4% of Airline Transport Certificate holders – the required certification to fly for a major carrier – are women. No major U.S. carrier hired a female pilot until 1973.

The situation is even worse for African Americans, who were not hired to pilot a commercial airplane until the 1960s. Things changed only because of a six-year battle against Continental Airlines waged by Marlon Green, who filed a discrimination complaint against the carrier. In 1963, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in his favor, paving the way for the first black pilot, David Ellsworth Harris, whom American Airlines hired in 1964. Green would follow suit at Continental in 1965.

Often their mere presence has been used to symbolize progress in diversifying the industry. (source: the conversation)

diversity in aviation

Helen Richey was the first female commercial pilot in 1934.

diversity in aviation

Captain David Harris was the first African American Airline commercial pilot hired by a major US airline in 1964 and was the first to be promoted to Captain.

Why is there a lack of diversity in the cockpit?

I have met great, open-minded, and modern thinking pilots. Most of them belonged to the younger generation. Unfortunately, there is still a huge percentage of pilots that are not tolerant and have a mindset like my flight instructor in Zadar.

To understand the roots of the issue: He was over 60 at that time. At the beginning of his aviation career he probably never flew with a single woman or an open LGBTQ member. When he became a captain, the WHO still considered being homosexual as a sickness. The authority gap in the cockpit was immense which was later found to deteriorate safety.

It is also a perception problem, where women are not seen as authoritative enough for positions like a captain of an aircraft.

The white male dominance

I had to experience a lot of sexist behavior against women. Pilots used their white male dominance in this job to feel superior. I had to listen to so many bad jokes about women and other minority groups. in the cockpit. I was getting sick of it and I had a hard time keeping calm because I feared when I would speak up a good atmosphere in the cockpit would infringe safety.

It is like a bowl of tomato soup. You put only a little bit too much salt in it is over-salted. The same applies to the behavior, beliefs, and attitude of some pilots. This has caused the cultures in aviation not to be very inclusive.

This domination of white men paired with known intolerance probably intimidates minor groups from pursuing a career in aviation.

Another barrier for those who lack resources and support. The cost of flight training can range from US$50,000 to upwards of $100,000.

What could lead to more acceptance?

In the end, corona could aggravate the pilot shortage problem in the future even more. The demand will eventually come back to an extreme high. But then we most probably experience an even greater lack of pilots, because of uncertainty during the crisis fewer people started their training to become a pilot.

I believe a stronger focus on attracting a diverse workforce and embracing a more inclusive culture is pivotal to ensuring there are enough pilots as we return back to the skies.

It is terrifying to see that some pilots believe that they are superior just because of their profession and believe that they are “flying gods”. I have been accused of disenfranchising the job because I have shown that I have feelings and that it is ok to be “colorful” on social media.

The new generation of pilots will help to lose the old stigmata and outdated bodies of thought.

Positive mind. Positive life. Happy landings.

The latest happenings inspired me to talk about this important topic: the lack of diversity in the cockpit. Please do not forget to like the post and leave me a comment below. What will help to reach more acceptance in the cockpit?

Your PilotPatrick

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