Airlines are looking for the right personality in their trainee pilots, and women are more likely to have it than men.
Don’t take it from me. This is from Europe’s largest pilot training organisation, the Oxford Aviation Academy.
OAA’s group managing director for ab-initio training, Anthony Petteford, says: “Many of the skills needed now are things that girls are good at.” He explains that operating in the latest generation flightdecks changes the the way a crew works together compared with relationships in classic “clockwork” cockpits. In the new ones the traditional “female” skills have become more important.
“In an Airbus cockpit, there is a much shallower authority gradient,” says Petteford, referring to the relationship between the captain and the copilot. Of course the Airbus sidestick completely removes the need for physical strength from the equation, but Petteford is really referring to the way information is presented and managed, which could equally apply to a Boeing 737NG.
The change has come about, he says, because although both pilots have always been presented with the same data by their instruments, now that flight and navigational information is provided more graphically, they have the same pictures to work with. In the old round-dial days, both pilots had to form a picture in their heads of what the three-dimensional flight situation was, which created the risk that there would be two different pictures with no way of comparing them.
In that situation, the more experienced pilot - usually the captain – theoretically had a better chance of having the more accurate (or more complete) situational awareness but – even more important to the crew relationship - he (it usually was a him) was always given the benefit of the doubt when uncertainty arose. Hence the naturally steeper authority gradient. Crew resource management (CRM) was originally created to overcome this potential inequity of situational awareness by improving inter-pilot communication and crosschecking.
So can women handle modern flghtdecks better than men? Or are they just more equal on a modern flightdeck than they used to be on the classics? Assuming the basic aptitudes are there, Petteford insists, ”the key issue is personality”. The key skills include team working and concentration, both natural to most young women and not as often to young men. Petteford didn’t actually mention the characteristic which has, for some years been claimed by women as something men simply can’t do but females can: multi-tasking.