Published on January 8th, 2018 | by Mark Dwyer


In the footsteps of Lilian Bland

Irishwoman, Lilian Bland, is often credited as being the world’s first female aviation engineer. In 1910, before the days of pilot or maintenance licences, Bland designed, built, and flew her own aircraft. She named it ‘Mayfly’ (may fly, may not fly). Over 100 years later, women in aircraft maintenance and engineering are in an even smaller minority than female professional pilots!

In 2015, the FAA reported that women made up just 2.4% of certificated Airframe & Powerplant mechanics. In Ireland, women count for less than 1.2% of the licenced aircraft engineers. While female licenced engineers have been around since the first year the US Department of Commerce’s Aeronautics Branch issued licences (1927), their numbers haven’t grown in proportion with industry.

In the latest apprenticeship class, Aer Lingus hired 3 women in a class of 10. This high level of female participation may be as a result of the online advertisement for the programme specifically recognising the need for diversity. Diversity on the hangar floor generates diverse thinking, which improves innovation and has been shown to result in better financial returns. Dublin Aerospace’s announcement of 150 new jobs over the next three years specifically mentioned women in regards to their Apprenticeship and Trainee programmes.  Hopefully this will encourage more women to participate in the sector.

Notwithstanding the need to encourage diversity, it is projected that there will be a shortage of licensed aircraft engineers globally within the next 10 years. This may increase the cost of maintenance for airlines and cause flight delays or cancellations. The aviation industry will be eager to draw applicants from all school leavers, not just the male ones.

How can airlines and maintenance organisations encourage the participation of women in maintenance and engineering? Some suggestions include;

  • Setting targets for increasing the number of women employed in maintenance and engineering;
  • Reaching out to schools to raise awareness of opportunities in aircraft engineering;
  • Providing specific diversity training to all staff with recruitment responsibilities; and
  • Explicitly referring to or depicting women in advertisements and marketing material regarding any traineeship/apprenticeship programme.

Becoming a licenced aircraft engineer requires the same investment of time and effort as an upper level academic qualification. An apprenticeship takes 4 years of ‘on’ and ‘off’ the job training, practical assessments, and exams in which a 75% mark is required to pass. Once qualified, an aircraft engineer performs a safety critical role in ensuring that all tasks they perform are done to the highest standard in order to keep aviators and the public safe.

Former aircraft apprentices can be found in all areas of aviation, some are Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operations Officers, or Chief Technical Officers, in airlines, maintenance organisations, drone manufacturers, and aircraft leasing companies. Others found their calling in Motorsport, namely Formula 1! Credited with being the first woman to fly in Ireland, and having the first powered biplane in Ireland; Lilian Bland left aviation for the motor trade where she opened and operated the first Ford Dealership in Belfast!

Lilian Bland designed, built, and flew her own aircraft and named it MayFly

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About the Author

Mark is an airline pilot flying the Boeing 737 for a major European airline. In addition he is also a Type Rating Instructor, Type Rating Examiner and Base Training Captain on the B737. Outside of commercial flying Mark enjoys flying light aircraft from the smallest 3 Axis microlights up to heavier singles. He is also an instructor and EASA Examiner on single engines and a UK CAA Examiner. He flies the Chipmunk for the Irish Historic Flight Foundation (IHFF). Mark became the Chairman of the National Microlight Association of Ireland (NMAI) in 2013 and has overseen a massive growth in the organisation. In this role he has worked at local and national levels. In 2015, Mark won ‘Upcoming Aviation Professional Award’ at the Aviation Industry Awards sponsored by the IAA. Mark launched this website back in 2002 while always managing the website, he has also been Editor and Deputy Editor of FlyingInIreland Magazine from 2005 to 2015.

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