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Aviation industry forecasts reveal the depth of the need for qualified personnel worldwide and the projected growth of the industry. Over the last five years, the industry has experienced average year over year passenger traffic growth of 6.5%, resulting in “unprecedented” financial prosperity for North American airlines (Boeing, 2018a). North American air carriers have accounted for more than half of the global industry prosperity in the last five years (Boeing, 2018a). The growth is attributed to multiple factors including lower air fares, higher standards of living in large emerging markets such as China and India, new airline business models, and growth in travel and tourism (Boeing, 2018a). The trend is expected to continue with a forecast growth rate of 4.7% average passenger growth over the next twenty years. (Boeing, 2018a). To meet that need, Boeing is forecasting that the number of jet airplanes in the commercial market will nearly double through 2037 (Boeing, 2018a). Growth in general aviation (GA) is also impacting the industry. In 2018, general aviation aircraft shipments experienced an increase of 5% for piston aircraft, 5.2% for turboprop aircraft, and a 3.8% increase in business jets (General Aviation Manufacturers Association [GAMA], 2019). While the overall GA fleet is forecast to remain relatively stable through 2039, growth in turbine and rotorcraft fleets is anticipated while fixed wing piston aircraft are forecast to decline (Federal Aviation Administration [FAA], 2019a). The number of GA hours flown is projected to increase in the same time period (FAA, 2019a). With the anticipated growth in both GA and commercial markets, operations at FAA towers are projected to grow .9% a year through 2039 (FAA, 2019a). The FAA also anticipates growth in the area of commercial space operations (space launch activities other than military and civilian government such as NASA) (FAA, 2019a). Such expansion in commercial space flight will result in increased FAA activity in the areas of approval for equipment, training, technicians, inspections and other related activities. As a gauge of the level of current activity in this area, the “FAA currently conducts as many as 400 pre-flight/reentry, flight/reentry, and postflight reentry safety inspections per year” (FAA, 2019a, p. 35). One of the fastest growing market segments in aviation continues to be Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). In the short time since UAS registration went into effect (December 2015), there are over 900,000 registered UAS, compared to just over 212,000 registered active GA aircraft (FAA, 2019a). A highly trained workforce to meet the needs of the expanding industry remains essential. As an example of the growing need, between 2018 and 2037, Boeing forecasts a need for 790,000 new pilots, 754,000 new technicians, and 890,000 new cabin crew (Boeing, 2018b).

Women in the aviation workforce are a vital resource for meeting the personnel needs. Before exploring the number of women in aviation, it is interesting to begin with a look at women in the U.S. workforce. The number of women in the workforce in the U.S. has increased over the past several decades (Toossi & Morisi, 2017). Women made up about 1/3 of the workforce in 1950 compared to 46.9% of the workforce in 2018 (Toossi & Morisi, 2017; Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS], 2018). The gender gap is excepted to continue to narrow (Toossi & Morisi, 2017). In addition, the women’s labor force is projected to become more diverse, “reflecting greater racial and ethnic diversity” in the next ten years (Toossi & Morisi, 2017, p. 18). It is also interesting to note that the proportion of women ages 25 to 64 in the labor force who hold a Bachelor’s degree and higher increased from 11% in 1970 to 42% in 2016 (BLS, 2017). By comparison, the number of men ages 25 to 64 in the labor force who hold a Bachelor’s degree and higher was slightly more than doubled during the same time frame, reaching just over 36% in 2016 (BLS, 2017).

Currently there is insufficient data on the number of women in the aviation workforce. While solid information is available on some segments of the industry, through FAA data for example, it remains a challenge to get a baseline of information in many segments in the industry. Data sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and member participation in aviation specific professional groups has been targeted to attempt to fill these gaps. The purpose of this report is to provide a comprehensive study of the number of women in the aviation workforce. When able, data from multiple sources are provided. In addition, the work will provide a baseline so future reports can be developed to establish and monitor trends in the workforce. At a time when the industry is facing unprecedented shortages of qualified personnel, understanding these key gaps in the workforce can lead to strategies to not only expand the workforce but also enhance diversity.


© 2019, Aviation Institute, University of Nebraska at Omaha

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