Attrition: Why Women Replace Men in as Pilots


June 23, 2006: Noting the success of female military pilots in the United States, other countries are moving in that direction as well. The reason is simple, many of the women who go through flight training turn out to have better flying skills than most men. But the traditional fear of women getting killed in combat still plays a role. India is at war with Islamic terrorists in Kashmir. While female police and government workers are at risk of injury from terrorist attack, that is not considered the same as the risk to female pilots flying in the area. So, bowing to real, or imagined, public opinion, the Indian Air Force has quietly transferred female pilots from units that fly into Kashmir or near the Pakistani border.

The Indian armed forces conducted studies of women in combat, and concluded that there was no practical reason for keeping women from these duties. There are currently 1800 female officers in the Indian armed forces. Most are in the army, but 39 percent are in the air force, and 45 of them are pilots.

India, and even Pakistan (which just graduated its first female pilots) is having a hard time keeping male pilots in uniform. Too many of the men depart for more lucrative, and less stressful, careers as commercial pilots. Women may not be the solution. Currently, only about half of women officers stay in past their initial five year contract. Indian women, even military pilots, are under tremendous social and family pressure to marry. Those that do may still be pilots, but married women are under a lot of pressure to have children. The Indian Air Force provides its female officers with ten months leave for this, six months during pregnancy, and four months after delivery. The air force does this because pilots are very expensive to train. Fuel costs the same everywhere, as do spare parts. So what India may save in lower salaries, is not enough. A good pilots costs over half a million dollars for training expenses, and takes over five years. So the Indians are betting a lot of money, and time, on their female pilots. Many women are willing to take up the challenge. But they have already heard from their peers in Western air force, that motherhood and piloting can be a very exhausting combination.




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