• Female pilots, increasingly present in aviation

    We bring you a post full of references for future generations

Although the statistics are slowly improving, there are more and more female airline pilots, so, for our part, as a pilot school and an acting part of this sector, we want to give visibility to the women who take to the skies every day, providing references to inspire future generations of female pilots.

In today’s post, we talk about female pilots who have marked milestones in history and, in addition, we address questions such as: How many female pilots are there in the world? How many are there in Spain? And what about military, fighter or helicopter female pilots? Let’s find out.

How many female pilots are there in the world?

Over a century after Raymonde de Laroche on 8 March 1910 became the first female pilot by obtaining her license at world level, we are still looking at very small figures of women before the controls of an aircraft.

In accordance to the latest statistics, we know of, data from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, the collective of women pilots in the world is just over 5% of all pilots.

Fortunately, and thanks in part to social networks, more and more female references in this profession are becoming visible; something that is essential for more and more girls to dream of becoming female airline pilots, scientists or mathematicians.

Which country has the most airline pilots in the world?

With a 13% rate, India is the country with the most female pilots in the world; leaving the global average far behind. This Asian country is placed at first in the world, over great potentials such as the US, Canada or the UK.

India, a country which drags many gender inequality issues, in this case, the country’s airlines are taking measures to facilitate the conciliation in the sector due to the colossal economic increase (22%) they’ve experienced in the last few years.

Nursery services, relocations for pregnant women or salary expectations without gender gap are some of the measures which have caused a rise in the number of women pilots in India. In just 5 years, the proportion of female students at the Bombay Flying Club, the most important school in India, has increased from 10 to 25%.

Female pilots in Spain, a growind trend

In Spain, in total terms, and according to data from the Spanish airline union SEPLA, we have around 260 female pilots affiliated in Spain, compared to the more than 6,000 men who are members of the same union.

So, to help improve the statistics, every day we find more female pilots’ associations that are working to make the presence of women in aviation more visible, encouraging many young women to take the step of starting a career as an airline pilot.

The good news is that the data is changing and the increase in enrolments in aviation schools is already evident. For our part, in an attempt to accelerate the trend, here are several Spanish female airline pilots who are currently active.

Lourdes Alcalá, from cabin crew to working as a pilot

Lourdes Alcalá wanted to be a pilot from a very early age but, due to different circumstances, she ended up studying French Translation and Interpreting at the University of Granada.

After graduating, she realised that her future was above the clouds and, although she began her career in aviation as a flight attendant, it didn’t take her long to make the leap to the cockpit. Encouraged by her fellow pilots, while working as a flight attendant for Qatar Airways, she started looking for flight school and it was then that she arrived at One Air in 2014.

Demonstrating exemplary perseverance, Lourdes attended online classes from Qatar while continuing to work. In addition, she took advantage of several leaves of absence of a few months to come to Malaga and do her flying hours.

After obtaining her licence, she worked as a Flight Instructor at our school until she joined Easyjet in 2019, where she has been flying as a First Officer ever since.

Gisela Armengol, Spain’s first female airline pilot and first female captain in Saudi Arabia

After more than five years working as a captain in Spain, in 2019, the Spanish Gisela Armengol took flight to become the first female and foreign captain in Saudi Arabia.

This female pilot from Lleida always knew that she wanted to work in aviation, although at first she thought about studying aeronautical engineering. But after taking a look at the syllabus, she decided that what she really wanted was to fly at the controls of large commercial aircraft.

And he has been doing just that for more than 20 years, as well as holding the current milestone of being able to fly in a country as restrictive as Saudi Arabia.

Mar Alguacil, one of the first female pilots to join Iberia

With more than 30 years of experience in aviation, Mar Alguacil began her career in aviation as a flight attendant for Iberia. Only four years later, and after passing an exhaustive selection process, she had the opportunity to train in Bremen (Germany) thanks to an agreement between Iberia and Lufthansa to train their own pilots.

Currently, she is still active as a captain for Iberia, type rated for Airbus A330 and A340 and, in addition, she leads the ‘Aviadoras’ project, a section of the Spanish Pilots Association (AEP) that seeks to promote women’s access to the profession through awareness and early education.

Female air force pilots in Spain

More and more women wish to work as military pilots worldwide. We just have to look around the news archives to verify that nearly every country has female military pilots in their ranks.

Also, we’ve seen how more and more women join the Air Force’s Elite Pilot teams in countries such as Spain, Argentina, Switzerland or Russia.

In America, a wonderful example is of the U.S Marines in 2020 welcoming Madeline Swegle, the first black woman to become a military pilot of a tactical jet.

Female fighter pilots in Spain

The Spanish Air Force has two types of fighter jets and to pilot these is an absolute privilege, due to the training and preparation to become one is extremely demanding. Fortunately, there are several female fighter pilots working in these aircraft capable of flying at supersonic speeds.

In 2016, Captain Rocío González Torres, one of the 18 fighter pilots of wing 12 of the air base in Torrejón de Ardoz, reached 1.000 hours of flight in the month of May of which she commented “it’s a very difficult thing to achieve, when you achieve this you’re capable of everything”.

Another example we wish to highlight in this article is that the Captain of the Air Force, Rosa María García-Malea, who flew an F-18 in 2017, also was the first female to join the “Patrulla Águila”, a position only granted to the acrobatic stars of the Spanish Air Force.

To finish, on our list of Spanish combat female pilots we have Lieutenant Elena Gutiérrez, who became the first female Eurofighter combat pilot in Spain in 2020.

  • Captain Rocío González, female fighter in the Spanish Air Force, who accumulates more than 1000 flight hours. (Photo: Breitling)

The first female pilots in history

After reviewing some of today’s female pilots, we don’t want to finish without paying tribute to all those women pilots who marked a milestone in history.

A group of brave women who broke with the norms of their time and who, very probably without knowing it, opened the way for women in aviation, becoming true pioneers.

Bettina Kadner, the first woman pilot in Spain

With almost 24,000 flight hours, the German-born Spaniard Bettina Inés Kadner is the first woman to obtain her first-class commercial aircraft pilot’s licence in 1969, at the age of just 22.

She began her training in the 1960s at a difficult time when she managed to get the aviation regulations changed, which had previously prohibited women from flying commercial aircraft. And in 1998 she became the first Spanish woman, and second European woman, to become the commander of the Airbus 320.

She is a benchmark in Spanish female aviation and has also been awarded an honorary doctorate by the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona. Bettina comes from a family closely linked to aviation, as her grandfather was a pilot during the First World War.

Raymonde de Laroche, the first woman to obtain a pilot’s licence

Born in Paris at the end of the 18th century, Raymonde de Laroche showed great talent and courage in flying aeroplanes. She began her professional career as an actress and it was at an aerodrome that she swapped the spotlight for the engines. At an event to promote her career where Raymonde was photographed among airplanes, she realised that her true vocation was flying.

In 1909 she made her first solo flight and the following year, on 8 March 1910, the French Air Club gave her pilot’s licence number 36.

This intrepid female pilot feared nothing; she took part in aerial exhibitions all over Europe and in 1913 she made the longest female flight to date, a distance of 323 kilometres.

Far ahead of her time, she wore trousers and drove her own car. During the First World War, she was not allowed to fly, so she drove lorries transporting officers to the front.

Geraldine Mock, the first woman pilot to circumnavigate the globe

Aboard The Spirit of Columbus, a small Cessna 180 aircraft, on 17 April 1964, Geraldine Mock, better known as Jerry Mock, managed to fly around the world, something no woman had ever done before.

The housewife and mother of three, aged almost 40, said she wanted to have a bit of fun with her plane when it took off from Columbus airport, before covering the 37,000 kilometres in 29 days and 21 stops that her feat entailed.

The journey was not without its complications; as well as breakdowns and weather problems, Jerry suffered the tedious bureaucratic red tape of crossing so many borders.

He experienced the longest leg of his journey two days before arriving at the airport from which he had departed a month earlier. She flew for more than 18 hours over the Pacific Ocean, ending her journey at the San Francisco airport where her husband, Russ Mock, was waiting for her.

Jerry was always a woman who did not conform to the times she lived in. She was bored by society’s clichés for women born, like her, in the American Midwest in the 1960s.

Amelia Earhart, the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic alone

With a restless and daring personality, Amelia Earhart, born in Kansas in 1897, was the first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic.

After her first record-breaking flight at over 14,000 feet in 1922, she began taking aviation lessons from another woman pilot, Neta Snoock. The following year she received her pilot’s licence from the International Aeronautical Federation.

Her interest in flying led Amelia to make journeys that no one had achieved before, such as the adventure she undertook in 1934, when she flew from Hawaii to California, and then to Washington, a feat that led her to receive congratulations from the then president of the USA, Roosevelt.

But, undoubtedly, the most striking aspects of her life as a woman pilot were the two trips she made across the Atlantic, the second being particularly important for achieving several milestones:

  • She was the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic.
  • She was also the first person to do it twice.
  • She held the record for the longest distance flown by a woman without a stop.
  • And she also held the record for crossing the Atlantic in the shortest time.

Wally Funk, over 60 years flying planes and the longest person to travel into space

In the 1960s, NASA presented a project called ‘Mercury 13: Woman in Space’ in which 13 female airline pilots were prepared to travel into space after a tough training. Mary Wallace Funk, better known as Wally Funk, did not hesitate to volunteer for the programme, but in the end it was cancelled and none of the women flew into space.

Wally Funk, born in Las Vegas in 1939, first expressed her passion for flying at the age of 9, when she took her first flying lesson. And, in 1960, she graduated with honours from the University of Oklahoma with her pilot’s licence. Later, she became the first flight instructor at a US military base. In addition, in her long career as a female airline pilot, she achieved several important accomplishments:

She also accumulated more than 20,000 flight hours and was the flight instructor for more than 3,000 student pilots.

Towards a promising future for all of us

We hope that you have enjoyed this article and that it has made you reflect on how history has changed and the number of female aeroplane and helicopter pilots in the world. For our part, we believe that the key lies in making female role models visible to girls and boys, who are our guarantee for the future.

As a pilot school, we are thrilled that there are more and more female students in our pilot courses and, therefore, more female instructors to train future generations in equality and diversity.

The change has only just begun and it is becoming more and more common to see women in all arreas of the aviation industry. It is only a matter of time before female airline pilots reach a higher proportion.