When the engine on a Southwest Airlines exploded, Tammie Jo Shults jumped into action. The Navy-trained pilot calmly took the Boeing 737 into a steep descent and made an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Shults’s bravery and nerves of steel make her a standout pilot, but the simple fact that she is a woman pilot at a commercial airline also makes her an outlier.
Eighty years after Helen Richey became the first woman to pilot a commercial airliner, there are still few women behind the yoke of a plane. While more than half the nation’s workforce is female, only 6% of pilots are women, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Only about 450 women worldwide are airline captains–that is, commanding pilots who supervise all the other crew members on a flight, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.
A new bill slowly making its way through Congress could change that. The bipartisan legislation, titled the Promoting Women in the Aviation Workforce Act of 2017, is sponsored by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT). It is meant to encourage and support women to pursue careers in the aviation industry.
The bill includes provisions to establish an FAA Women in Aviation Advisory Board “to promote organizations and programs that provide education, training, mentorship, outreach, and recruitment of women in the aviation industry.” That includes pilot training, STEM education, and mentorship programs that would help women to pursue and succeed in aviation-related careers, according to a news release announcing the measure.
Considering the global pilot shortage, it only makes sense to put more women in the pilot’s seat. Hopefully, this bill will help achieve that.