Business Traveller

Women in the captain's seat

Daisy Carrington, CNNUpdated 8th March 2015
(CNN) — When Patricia Mawuli first tried to get a job as a pilot in Ghana, the airfield's technical director rejected her flat out:
"We don't employ women," he told her.
It is a sentiment that female aviators have heard across the globe for decades. Like those pioneers, however, Mawuli persevered.
"I said: 'I will do whatever it takes, I'll work hard, you don't have to pay me,'" she recalls.
Unfortunately, women in aviation still face an uphill battle. According to the FAA's Aeronautical Center, females account for a mere 6% of the pilot population. The International Society for Women estimates there are only 450 female airline captains worldwide.
Angela Masson, a retired American Airlines captain who heads the group, told CNN in a previous interview that the reasons the industry doesn't lure women are myriad.
Alia Twal is one of 20 female pilots in Jordan.
Alia Twal is one of 20 female pilots in Jordan.
Courtesy Alia Twal
"I suppose if the job were just concerned with flying, there would be a lot more women," she said.
"But the job isn't just flying, it's wrapped up in a whole lot of other unappealing circumstances, unappealing especially to women who may not have the drive, ambition, financial means or the family/network support to pursue flying as a career."
This is especially true in some of the more conservative pockets of the world. Alia Twal, a first officer for Royal Jordanian Airlines, recalls the difficulty she had in convincing her father that pilot was a viable career path for her.
"When I told my parents I wanted to be a pilot, oh my, that was a complete 'no-no'," she says.
“I said: 'I will do whatever it takes, I'll work hard, you don't have to pay me.”
Patricia Mawuli, Ghanan pilot
It took a year for Twal to convince her father, and it's a decision neither of them have regretted. At the age of 21, she became a flight instructor, and now holds the position of governor of the Arabian chapter of The Ninety-Nines, the International Organization of Women Pilots, which, alas, only has 36 members.

The trailblazers

The numbers are, slowly, starting to improve, mainly thanks to the efforts of female pilots who have started to lend their expertise to foster a new generation of lady aviators.
Mawuli, for instance, launched an academy called AV-Tech, which aims to provide young Ghanaian girls with the skills, training and inspiration they need to make it on their own as pilots.
"There are a lot of young people (who), when they see me, (are given) hope. It motivates them to learn harder because they believe women actually have something ahead of them," she says.
Kristina Tervo is another pilot also helping women in the region to get their wings. As an instructor for Air Arabia, she estimates there is on average only one female in a group of 20 cadets.
She's hoping that will change one day. As vice president of the Middle East chapter of Women in Aviation, she's seen a great deal of potential during school visits and at talks.
With the Middle East carriers expanding, the time should be ripe for women to enter the cockpit
"We're keen to get more women into the industry, and what we're seeing is very encouraging," she says.