Countries With the Highest Number of Female Pilots

India, the fastest-growing aviation market in the world, boasts the highest number of female pilots in the industry.



March 8, 2023

DALLAS — For years, women have broken barriers and made an impact in occupations that were once deemed to be the sole domain of men. One such field is commercial aviation.

While the number of female pilots has been steadily growing over the past few decades, there are still fairly few women who hold Commercial Pilot Licenses (CPL) across the globe. According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA) 2021 study, less than 6% of pilots worldwide are women.

In the lead-up to International Women's Day, Air India (AI), Air India Express (IX), and AirAsia India (I5) have flown 90 all-woman crew flights since March 1. The number 90 was chosen in honor of the 90th anniversary of JRD Tata's first commercial flight, according to a statement released by the group.

There are some countries where the number of female commercial pilots is higher than others. India takes the top spot, with more than twice the global average of women pilots.

Today, we will scour the country with the highest number of female commercial pilots and explore what aspects contribute to this trend.

VT-ANG Air India Boeing 787-8... Photo: Tony Bordelais/Airways

Industry Overview

As per recent statistics, there are over 1,200 female pilots in India, and around 10% of them are commercial pilots.

This figure may not seem very high, but it is significant when compared to other countries. In the United States, only around 5% of commercial pilots are women, which is less than the international average.

Countries with highest number of female pilots
Countries with the highest number of female pilots | Photo: International Society of Women Airline Pilots

Most countries have less than 10% of female commercial pilots in their ranks. Ireland and South Africa each have 9.9%, Canada has 7%, and Germany has 6.9 %.

Here are the detailed statistics provided by ISA for female pilots in India, Australia, Canada, the USA, and the world average based on different types of airlines.

CountryMajor AirlinesLow-cost CarriersRegional airlinesCargo airlinesTotal1) India12.310.913.98.512.32) Australia6.05.812.69.87.53) Canada6. USA5. World5. International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA)

The regional carriers are leading the race for having the highest percentage of female pilots on their flight decks, while low-cost airlines have the least compared to others.

Apart from this, AI has the highest number of female pilots, close to 13%. Other major airlines are Aer Lingus (EI) at 9.9%, Hawaiian Airlines (HA) at 9.3%, United Airlines (UA) at 7.7%, and finally, Lufthansa (LH) has 6.9% of total female pilots.

Singapore Airlines (SQ) is among the major carriers that have the fewest number of female pilots, at less than 0.5%.

So why is India leading the course in terms of female commercial pilots?

Photo: Lorenzo Giacobbo/Airways

Historical and Cultural Environment

Many factors justify the numbers, but the country's historical and cultural diversity plays a significant role. India has a long tradition of women breaking barriers and making their mark in fields that were once considered exclusive for men. The country also has the world's second-highest female population after China.

For example, in 1966, India became the first country in the world to elect a female head of government when stateswoman Indira Gandhi was elected Prime Minister. She was India's first and, to date, only female prime minister and a central figure of the Indian National Congress.

Women in India have long challenged gender stereotypes and societal expectations. At the same time, they have been encouraged to pursue education and careers. This has paved the way for more women to enter the workforce, including in aviation.

Additionally, India's cultural diversity has fostered an environment of tolerance and inclusivity, allowing women from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to achieve success in their selected fields.

Air India VT-EXM Airbus A320-251N. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways
Air India VT-EXM Airbus A320-251N. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

Government Initiatives

The Indian government has taken several initiatives to promote gender equality and empower women in the workforce, including in the aviation industry. One such initiative is the "Women in Aviation" program, launched in 2018.

The program aims to create more opportunities for women in the aviation industry by providing training, scholarships, and mentoring programs. It also aims to increase awareness of the aviation industry among women and promote gender diversity in the workplace.

Under this program, the government has launched several campaigns to support women. One of the endeavors is the "Women Transforming India" campaign, which aims to identify and recognize the achievements of women in various fields, including aviation.

The Indian government has also provided financial incentives to airlines that have a high percentage of female pilots, including a reduction in landing and parking charges as well as the provision of additional time slots at airports.

The state has also launched a series of training programs for female pilots. The programs are designed to provide women with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the aviation industry.

There's also a task force set up to examine the challenges faced by female pilots and recommend solutions to overcome them. It comprises representatives from the government, the aviation industry, and women's organizations.

India's initiatives have played a notable role in promoting gender diversity and empowering women in the aviation industry. As a result, the number of female commercial pilots in India has increased remarkably in recent years, and the industry has become more inclusive and eclectic because of these initiatives.

Photo: NBAA

Institutional Effectiveness

Private organizations and institutions have played a vital role in promoting gender equality and empowering women in the aviation industry in India. These organizations have provided essential support, advocacy, and training programs for female pilots.

One of the prominent organizations in this regard is the Indian Women Pilots Association (IWPA). The organization has been advocating for women's advancement in the aviation industry since its establishment in 1967. IWPA provides a platform for female pilots to share experiences, connect, and promote gender equality in the workplace.

In addition to IWPA, the Aerospace Women's League has also played a substantial role in promoting gender diversity in the aviation industry. The organization provides training programs, networking opportunities, and advocacy for women in the aerospace and aviation industries.

Several academic institutions in India have also taken steps to promote gender diversity in the aviation industry by establishing aviation-related programs particularly designed for women. These programs provide technical training in areas such as aviation safety, communication skills, and flight simulation.

Moreover, airlines in India are increasingly providing more opportunities for women in the industry by hiring more female pilots, offering maternity leave and flexible work hours, and creating a supportive work environment. These measures help to attract and retain more female pilots in the country.

Across the board, private organizations and institutions have played an integral role in promoting gender diversity and empowering women in the country.

UDAN scheme
UDAN scheme | Image: BJP Nagaland FB post

India's Air Travel Boom

The aviation industry in India has seen a considerable rise in demand for air travel in recent years. This growth has been attributed to several factors, including rising incomes, increased connectivity, and growing urbanization.

As the Indian economy continues to grow, more people are traveling for business and leisure. Additionally, the increasing number of middle-class families has also led to more people traveling for leisure purposes.

The government has taken several initiatives to increase connectivity and make air travel more accessible to the masses. Initiatives such as the "Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik" (UDAN) scheme have helped to increase air connectivity to smaller towns and cities across the country, making air travel more accessible to people in remote areas.

The growth in air travel has led to an increase in demand for skilled pilots, including female pilots. As the aviation industry becomes more diverse and inclusive, the demand for female pilots has increased immensely.

Air India all women crew operated world's longest flight.
Air India's all-women crew operated the world's longest flight. | Photo: Tweeted by Dr. Visnusha Reddy

"World's Longest" all-women-operated Flight

On January 10, 2021, an AI all-women cockpit crew set a record after flying the world's longest flight, which covered 16,000 km (approximately 9941 miles) for 17 hours. The flight was operated by Captain Zoya Aggarwal, Captain Papagari Thanmai, Captain Akansha Sonaware, and Captain Shivani Manhas.

They traveled to the North Pole to open up a new route uniting two places on opposite sides of the world: San Francisco and South India. It's an important route for tech talent.

"Air India's woman power flies high around the world."

Hardeep Singh Puri, Union minister and minister of Civil Aviation of India, 2021
Photo: Etihad Airways

Challenges for Female Pilots

The aviation industry has traditionally been male-dominated, and female pilots have faced several challenges in breaking that glass ceiling. Strides have been made, but there are still challenges that female pilots encounter in the industry.

Female pilots are often isolated and do not have access to mentorship programs or networking opportunities, which can hinder their career growth. The aviation industry needs to improve support systems for female pilots, including mentorship programs, networking opportunities, and access to training and development programs.

Another significant challenge for female pilots is the lack of role models. While there are more female pilots in the industry now than ever before, the number is still relatively low compared to their male counterparts. This can make it difficult for female pilots to foresee a career path and feel supported in their careers.

Moreover, the aviation industry has traditionally had a culture of long working hours and unpredictable schedules, which can be challenging for women who have family responsibilities.

The lack of awareness and biases against women in the industry is also a cogent challenge. Many people in the industry still hold outdated views that women are not suitable for jobs in aviation. This perception needs to be changed, and the industry needs to become more inclusive and diverse.

Another noteworthy challenge is the lack of facilities and infrastructure for women. Many airports and airlines do not have adequate facilities for women, including restrooms, changing rooms, and nursing rooms.

Photo: Marrit Gorter/Airways

The Future is Bright

India currently leads the industry in terms of the number of female commercial pilots. This trend can be attributed to several factors, including the country's historical and cultural background, government initiatives to promote gender equality, and the growing demand for air travel in the country.

However, there are still challenges that women face in the aviation industry in India, such as discrimination and a lack of work-life balance. Despite these challenges, the future looks promising for female commercial pilots in the South Asian country, and it is likely that the industry will continue to become more diverse and inclusive in the years to come.

Air India has around 200 female pilots, making up over 40% of their workforce and 15% of their cockpit crew. IX and I5, both subsidiaries of AI, have a combined total of 97 female pilots. Further, AI has operated 40 flights with all-female crews across domestic and international destinations, while IX is running 10 international flights to the Gulf region, and I5 has flown over 40 flights within India.

Flying clubs around the globe are witnessing more female students than ever before. The FAA states more than 12% of flying trainees are now female in the USA, and in India, that figure has doubled.

If we see the report by ISA21, there is more gender diversity in STEM-based fields than in aviation, which constitutes 6% of female pilots. Likewise, 44% of doctors, 33% of astronauts, 29% of scientists, and 21% of engineers are women in these fields.

Governments and institutions will need to strive to promote gender diversity in the aviation industry. With the support of all industry players, the number of female pilots can increase in the coming years.

Do you think we will have more gender diversity in the aviation industry? Let us know in the comments sections of our social media channels.

Happy International Women's Day, Airways!

Feature Image: Air India Pilots. Photo: Star Alliance