Women in aviation

Women sought and found the way to aviation at an early stage, but only established themselves as professional pilots with large airlines in the 80s. Today women in the sector are indispensable both in commercial and technical professions.

Women conquer the cockpit

"A woman has a better chance of becoming a world heavyweight boxing champion than a head pilot at Deutsche Lufthansa". A quote from the 60s by Alfred Vermaaten, the former head of the Lufthansa commercial flying school. Fortunately, however, experts in the aviation industry like Vermaaten were simply deluding themselves, as it was as soon as 23 August 1988 that female pilots conquered Lufthansa cockpits. The first female world boxing champion, on the other hand, was only six years later.

The female sex has a long tradition in aviation. The industry is still dominated by men, and yet bit by bit women are discovering this men‘s world for themselves.

Female occupation on World Women‘s Day

For the World Women's Day on 8 March, 2013, Air France offered something very special. On a flight aboard the Airbus A380 from Paris to Washington, there was solely female crew on board, both in the cockpit and in the cabin. 2 pilots and 22 flight attendants made up the crew on Flight AF054. Exclusively female-staffed flights are otherwise in flight plans only by chance. In the meantime, other airlines are following suit and making a gesture with similar actions on International Women‘s Day.

Aviation - not a men's domain

When it comes to the technical areas of aviation, such as aircraft mechanics or engineering sciences, it is in most cases where men are found. A stereotypical profession usually practiced by women in the aviation sector, however, is that of the flight attendant. In this job position women are very much present – on average, four in five flight attendants are women. In addition, women in aviation are often employed in commercial professions with airlines. According to the Federal Institute for Vocational Training, the proportion of women in commercial apprenticeships is always above 60% for aviation professions.

As much now as before, there are much fewer female pilots and air traffic controllers than male. The proportion of female aviators with Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo and Eurowings currently lies at only 6%, whereas the female controllers at DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH account for 27% of the approximately 2,000 employees.

The female pioneers of aviation

Although women in the aviation and aerospace industry did not always have it easy at the beginning, women are still very successful in this sector, as the success story shows. Whenever women have taken a step further in aviation, the media hype has been great and they have been revered as heroines.

The following small timeline gives an overview of which women have shaped the aerospace industry:

  • The Frenchwoman Jeanne-Geneviève Labrosse was the first female professional aeronaut in the year 1798.

  • In 1910, the frenchwomen Raymonde de Laroche was the first woman to obtain a pilot‘s licence.

  • The German engineer and aviator Melitta Klara Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg, née Schiller studied flight mechanics at TU Munich in the 20s and researched aerodynamics at the German Aerospace Center.

  • In 1928, Marga von Etzdorf became the first German female airline pilot for Lufthansa.

  • The German aviatrice Hanna Reitsch was a test and research pilot at the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug in the 1930s. She became a test pilot for the "military test center" in Rechlin and flew the most modern military aircraft.

  • In 1935 one of the most popular German female pilots, Elly Beinhorn, made the record-breaking Berlin-Istanbul-Berlin long-distance flight.

  • In 1953 the American Jackie Crochan was the first female pilot to break the sound barrier.

  • In 1963 the German mathematician and physician, Irene Sänger-Bredt, started her career as an engineer for space travel and advised for example the Junkers company. In addition, she developed the first concept for the space shuttle, among others.

The careers of the first female airline pilots show how career opportunities have changed for women in aviation since. In 1988, Evi Hetzmannseder and Nicola Lisy started their training at Lufthansa, starting their first flight as co-pilots on a Boeing 737 two years later. In 2000 they were the first German female captains permitted to take the pilot‘s seat, fly the plane independently, and therefore take full responsibility for the aircraft, passengers and crew. Evi Hetzmannseder and the former flight attendant Nicola Lisy began regular flights with Lufthansa.

According to the company, there are currently 417 active female copilots at Lufthansa, of which around 114 are flight captains. This equates to just 6% of all Lufthansa pilots. There is still ”a long airway to the top“.

Famous aviatrices

Marga von Etzdorf flew at the age of 20 for the first time as a ”co-pilot“ on the right seat of a Junkers F 13, the first all-metal plane. She brought for example passengers from Berlin to Basel. After that, it took 60 years for a woman to occupy a Lufthansa cockpit again.

Career quotas – good opportunities for female employees

Curently, only some 20% of all applications for jobs in aviation are from women. Meanwhile, airlines are moving a different course than before, and they want more female staff in management roles. The career opportunities offered are equally accessible to women and men in the industry and female applicants fulfill the necessary conditions just as well as men. Female applicants are also increasingly taken into account in the technical and skilled professions, as a balanced mix of employees in specialist companies brings many advantages. This is also confirmed by the Mixed Leadership Barometer of the EY organization of 2015: Mixed-sex teams are more successful than groups in which men form the majority.

For the past 3 years, the German Airports Association (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutscher Verkehrsflughäfen - ADV) has continually been exchanging measures that may increase the attractiveness of airports as a workplace or an employer for women. Female personnel should be more visible and more integrated at all levels. In addition, however, women's chances of promotion should be increased, their networks strengthened, and the women more encouraged to work at the airport. Moreover, there should be more ideas and measures to reconcile work and family life for female employees. The aim is to promote women and to strengthen mixed teams. It is precisely for this reason that the potential of women is of particular importance. Furthermore, positions in the Supervisory Boards, Executive Boards and the upper management segment should be increasingly filled with female employees, which is why the recruitment of female applicants must be improved and expanded.

Most preferred jobs in the aviation industry

Lufthansa has long promoted equal treatment of women in the company. Already in the 1960s this equality was defined in a tariff-compatible manner. The company has also always had a relatively large proportion of female employees compared to other airlines.

Considering the general popularity of jobs in the aviation sector and the proportion of women there, derived from the number of students and trainees in the respective field, it can be seen the largest proportion of women is in the commercial sector at over 60%. There are many more aviation servicewomen (78.7%) and air traffic maagement assistants (62.9%) than students in aerospace engineering at universities and technical colleges (11,3 %). Worse still, the proportion of women in the roles of aircraft mechanic and airline pilot only scores just over 9%.

Targeted promotion of young talent in aviation

To make it easier for young female talent, various companies already have initiatives for special career and support programs for women. Lufthansa for example offers a one-year programme in which the participants can find out for themselves whether they can imagine a job in management. The programme includes the following components: personality development, self-management, career planning and network competence.

The women's quota at ARTS

ARTS employs 23 % more female engineers than the company average in Germany of 15 %. One of the three managing directors of ARTS is also female – Andrea Piontek (formerly Felber) joined the ARTS board early on. Since 2004 she has worked at management level and is today Chief Customer Officer.

If you feel inspired and encouraged by these heroines of aviation, then take control of your future career path and dare to join the exciting field of aerospace! Perhaps you may find something at the ARTS job board - we always look forward to numerous female applicants.

Or are you already active in the aviation industry? What division do you work in? We look forward to hearing from you.


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