In more than a century of aviation, women have been prominent trailblazers. In 1909 Baroness Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman to fly solo, in 1928 Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic, and eight years later, New Zealand's Jean Batten made the first solo flight from Britain to this country.

But achievements like that haven't been matched by representation on the flight decks of commercial airlines.

Research by CAPA Centre for Aviation shows that in the United States and Britain just over 4 per cent of pilots are women.

In this country Air New Zealand's jet fleet has 4.6 per cent women pilots and its regional fleet 11.3 per cent women, according to the airline's inflight magazine.


Air New Zealand pilots last year established the network WINGS (Women Inspiring the Next Generation) to build a strong future for women in aviation and promote career pathways to young women and girls.

The group consists of Air New Zealand regional and jet pilots and has since expanded to include members of the airline's aircraft engineering and maintenance and aircraft operations workforce.
Attracting more women into the profession is a key objective of the group. Members of WINGS have visited schools to discuss career opportunities to students considering going into aviation. 
''While membership of WINGS is currently all-female, the group is also taking expressions of interest for male pilots to join and stand alongside female members to advocate for more women in the profession,'' the airline said.

At Qantas about five per cent of pilots are women. Late last year Qantas announced the Nancy Bird Walton initiative – named after the pioneering Australian aviator – to improve on its proportion of female pilots.

It commits the Qantas group to a 20 per cent intake of qualified women in its 2018 Future Pilot Programme (which is in line with the proportion of women in aviation courses nationally) and to reach at least 40 per cent over the next decade.

The programme offers aviation students an accelerated pathway into the Qantas Group and the program includes Massey University in New Zealand along with six universities in Australia.

Among other airlines flying here, Virgin Australia has 5.5 per cent women among its 1500 pilots.

The airline said it was nurturing the next generation of female pilots. ''We recently announced a target of an equal intake of males and females for our pilot cadetship programme, ensuring female representation is increased in male-dominated areas of the aviation industry," said a spokeswoman.

Overseas, budget Indian carrier IndiGo appears to have the highest proportion of women - 13.9 per cent, up from 10 per cent five years ago.


The International Society of Women Airline Pilots' website shows data for 79 airlines around the world as of July. Among those airlines there are 7468 women pilots - equating to 5.2 per cent of the total. Of these, only 1393 are captains.

In absolute terms, the big three US airlines have the highest number of women pilots.

Women are also under-represented among Federal Aviation Administration-certificated ground crew (just 4.3 per cent as at the end of last year) and over-represented among flight attendants (79.5 per cent).

''On a purely hard-nosed, commercial level, the current squeeze in the supply of qualified airline pilots means that airlines need to widen the recruitment net,'' said the CAPA report.

IATA's board of governors had just one woman among 26 airline bosses earlier this year. Photo / Supplied
IATA's board of governors had just one woman among 26 airline bosses earlier this year. Photo / Supplied

While it describes the global issue of women in senior airline management as ''even more dire'', in this country Air New Zealand this year said it had almost reached its 2020 target of 40 per cent women on the senior leadership team. It has reset that target to achieve 50 per cent.

"To put this in perspective, in January 2013 just 16 per cent of our senior leadership team was female,'' said chief executive Christopher Luxon.

Qantas Airways said its senior management was 40 per cent female, with chief executive Alan Joyce describing that as a "competitive advantage".

A meeting of the International Air Transport Association this year showed how few women are at the industry's very highest level.

A photo of the association's board of governors included just one woman among 26 airline bosses - Christine Ourmières-Widener, chief executive of Flybe Group, a small regional carrier in Britain.