By: Sen. Susan M. Collins
When the Wright Brothers successfully launched the world’s first airplane in 1903, they credited their sister, Katharine, with providing the engineering and business expertise necessary to help make powered flight possible. In 1932, Amelia Earhart completed the first solo transatlantic flight by a woman. During World War II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots – WASPs – ferried aircraft from the factories to the front lines with courage, dedication, and sacrifice. In 1983, astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.
Despite these historic accomplishments during more than a century of powered flight, today women remain significantly underrepresented in the aviation industry. Although women make up more than 50 percent of our nation’s workforce, they represent just two percent of airline mechanics, four percent of flight engineers, five percent of repairmen, six percent of pilots, 18 percent of flight dispatchers, and 26 percent of air traffic controllers.
In a field that is so integral to our economy and national security, it is essential that talented and dedicated women are given the opportunity to contribute. As Chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I have joined with Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois to introduce bipartisan legislation that would encourage women to pursue careers in aviation and promote programs to support their professional development in the field.
It is an honor to co-sponsor this legislation with Sen. Duckworth, who herself has been a pioneer for women in aviation. A decorated veteran, she served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot and was one of the first women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2004, her Black Hawk helicopter was hit by enemy fire and she suffered severe combat wounds, losing both legs and damaging her right arm.
Sen. Duckworth has noted that when she was in flight school, she rarely saw other women in her classes. Our legislation, the Promoting Women in the Aviation Workforce Act, aims to address the imbalance by encouraging the aviation industry to offer opportunities, such as pilot training, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, recruitment, and mentorship programs that would help women to pursue and succeed in aviation-related careers. Our bill would also direct the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create and manage a Women in Aviation Advisory Board to encourage the industry to provide such programs.
Finally, in another effort to improve the availability and quality of educational opportunities for women pursuing careers in aviation, our legislation would require that the FAA submit a report to Congress on current trends concerning women in aviation and the potential for expanding existing programming.
From the engineer’s drafting table to the control tower to the pilot’s seat, women have made invaluable contributions to aviation in America. The Promoting Women in the Aviation Workforce Act will help to ensure that women can continue to achieve success in the workforce supporting one of our country’s foremost industries.