Women in Air Cargo and Aviation

Published: Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A disproportionate ratio still exists against women in the air cargo and aviation sectors but their numbers are rising thanks to a new perspective and changing technological trends that require more analytical, technical and engineering skills rather than their muscles, igniting passion for more women to explore the industries that greatly reward hard work and loyalty

History is made in aviation every year on March 8, the International Women’s Day.
In Dubai, Emirates Capt. Nevin Darwish, an Egyptian, flew on that day A380, the largest commercial plane in the market, becoming the first Arab female pilot to hold the title.
In the not so distant India, the country’s national flag carrier flew an all-women crew flight around the world covering a distance of about 15,300 km in 15.5 hours, capping the feat in its capital New Delhi.
Indian women operated the entire flight, including ground handling, from operator to technician, engineer, flight dispatcher and trimmer. The line operation safety audit was also done by a woman, Harpreet A De Singh, ED Flight Safety, Air India.
Mukesh Bhatia, Regional director (Western Region) of Air India, says, the company has the biggest women workforce in the country’s growing aviation industry at 3,800 covering jobs as pilots, cabin crew, engineers, technicians, doctors, security personnel, duty managers, and executives in various fields.
In March, Brazil’s Capt. Carla Alexandre Borges also made headlines when she became the first woman to fly the country’s presidential aircraft. An experienced combat pilot at the Brazilian Air Force, she was also the first Brazilian woman to fly an A-1 jet fighter.
In the warring Korean peninsula, women pilots are also actively engaging in the air space with both South Korea and North Korea having jet fighter planes commandeered by women. Elsewhere in Asia, the number of women in civil and military aviation keeps growing.
Aviation Commands Growth
Over the next two decades, as aviation takes on a more important role in connecting people and goods and as the middle class in emerging markets in various regions rise, the industry would need about 620,000 more commercial pilots and thousands of technical jobs in the field, according to separate analytical reports made by global giants Boeing and Airbus.
“Demand in the commercial market is forecast to more than double over the next two decades. To meet this demand, we forecast the number of jet airplanes will nearly double to 47,000 airplanes, at an average annual growth rate of 3.3 percent. To support this fleet growth, Boeing forecasts a need for more than 41,000 new deliveries, valued at over US$6 trillion, for growth and replacement over the next 20 years,” the US-based Boeing said in its latest 20-year aviation market forecast report.
Separately, the European aerospace giant Airbus said in its 2017-2036 Global Market Forecast titled “Growing Horizons”, the aviation industry’s growth is contingent upon the GDP, tourism, growing affluence and urbanization in India, China and other emerging markets, liberalization, immigration and visa simplification, among other factors.
“For the next 20 years, the Airbus GMF forecasts a 4.4% global annual air traffic growth, despite some downward revision of future economic growth by a number of forecasters in several regions of the world. In our forecast the first decade will enjoy a 4.9% increase per year, with 4.1% average annual growth for the last decade, a lower figure but growth in those years based on absolute traffic numbers higher than today,” it said.
The UN body tasked to oversee the global aviation industry, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), said the scenario calls for more women to get engaged in the sector.
“Aviation globally is expanding. Over the coming decades, hundreds of thousands of new pilots, air traffic controllers, maintenance professionals and other skilled workers and managers will need to be recruited, and women in aviation, both young and old, will be critical to how effectively aviation meets these challenges,” said Dr. Fang Liu, the current Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN body.
Liu, the first woman to hold the position at ICAO, said the agency is widening its outreach to all girls and women about the professional and personal growth opportunities that await them in the aviation sector. Apart form that, the agency also introduced flagship programs –Young Aviation Professionals Program, which is administered in collaboration with IATA and ACI, and an Aviation Scholarship Program in collaboration with IAWA.
Women in Aviation and Air Cargo
Women had made giant leaps in the general aviation sector more than 100 years since the first plane was invented. Their presence is equally felt in the space industry, aerospace technology and even military aviation.
But gender diversity and balance remain important issues that many industrialized countries and organizations try to change.
In the United States, only more than 5 percent of its estimated 554,177 licensed pilots in 2014 are women.
In Mexico, the ratio of women in the industry against men is just 2.33 percent; 5.6 percent in Japan, 7.6 percent in France, based on records from Airman Database. No statistics are available for the Middle East and Africa.
Liana Coyne, the Oxford educated lawyer who now runs the family-owned Coyne Airways office in Dubai, said while it is true that the air cargo industry appear to be male-dominated, it boils down to a person’s passion in working for the industry.
“I am hard-pushed to think of any but a handful of performing arts professions that can only be undertaken by a particular gender. Certainly in aviation and logistics (as well as law), I think that the right person for a particular job comes down to that particular person’s experience and attributes, rather than whether they are male or female,” she told Air Cargo Update in an email interview.
“However, it is true that there does seem to be a preponderance of men in our industry and the question is why,” she added.
In Africa, women’s presence in both aviation and air cargo are very much felt. Several major airports and airlines in the continent are managed by women who are entrusted with different executive and technical positions customarily seen among men in Westernized countries.
Nina Malherbe, a senior specialist cargo at Airports Company South Africa, is one of them. As a technical specialist, she says she has to continually educate herself in the field and bring out the best in whatever she does.
As a cargo specialist she watches the market carefully to make the company make an informed decision for its future projects. For instance, how to optimize terminal space in difficult times.
Malherbe says the Middle East and Africa are the main markets of South Africa when it comes to perishables. Their company is increasing its capacity in anticipation of market increase over the next few years.
“We’ve done some internal studies feasibilities & initial considerations for our projects,” she said, noting that they’re fortunate their activities are insulated from South Africa’s ongoing political conflict.
“We’re dependent on lots of external markets so whatever happens in the political arena, the markets carry on. There’s always the global market to consider,” she added.
Her colleague, Khanyisile Mabuza, account manager cargo & remote sites at ACSA, says being a woman in the industry inspires her to do better.
She is particularly interested in bringing more technological advancements in Africa to speed up the process of exporting and importing goods.
“e-Commerce and airport digitalization are very important for us. The whole world is going paperless. That infrastructure will make us global,” she said.
Coyne said the disproportionate number of women in air freight may have stemmed from their early exposure in life as well as passion for what we do later on.
“I think that boys are more likely than girls to be socialised with toy trucks, boats and airplanes, and some of those boys develop a fascination with the tools of our trade. This childhood love can plant a seed of interest which may grow later. Further, some people get their first exposure to aviation and logistics in the armed forces and armed forces tend to be predominantly male,” she said.
“Now, I would never suggest that the way to get more women into aviation and logistics is to force them to play with particular toys in childhood or make them sign up for armed service, but I think that, as an industry, we have to get better at getting people excited about what we do and explaining how it affects lives,” she added. “The truth is we have a good story and one that is worth telling. It is one of the reasons why it is difficult to find someone working in our industry who is not passionate about it.”
Global mission
Shaesta Waiz, the Afghan-American pilot, on a mission to circumnavigate the world to inspire other young women to pursue their dreams and encourage them to take up courses related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), said women can excel in aviation just like men.
Born in a refugee camp in the United States where her family fled in 1987 during the Soviet-Afghan war era, Waiz grew up in a poor neighborhood in Richmond, California, along with her five sisters.
Dropping out of school in that district was so common, she thought she’d end up getting married at a young age & start a big family. But life made a twist for Waiz when she dreamt of becoming a pilot.
Waiz sent herself to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, one of the prestigious in the country, through various scholarships.
When it was time to finance her flight trainings, Waiz created the Women’s Ambassador Program mentoring young women to pursue education in aviation and engineering. In exchange, the university waived her fees while working on her flying hours.
“If you have the passion for aviation but you cannot afford it, my advice is number one, apply for every available scholarship. Two, look for opportunities where you can get involved with companies,” she said.
“It’s constantly at the back of my mind. I’m no different than you or the girl in Africa, we are all humans. I didn’t come from a family who has money. I didn’t come from a family from aviation but I found something that I love—flying,” she added.
In 2016, Waiz founded Dreams Soar, a nonprofit organization, promoting STEM globally in collaboration with ICAO. This year, she has so far made 30 stops in 22 countries, including the UAE. Each stop she made an outreach event inspiring young women of different colors and backgrounds.
“I started Dreams Soar to share my story with women around the world, to let them know it is possible to achieve your dreams, regardless of the challenges and traditions you may face,” said Waiz. “Every time I open the door to an aircraft, I ask myself, “How did a girl with my background become so lucky?” The truth is anyone can be me.”