Women in Aviation Asia Project launched to boost gender equality


Inspiring girls and women to take up careers in aviation and aerospace is the aim of the new Women in Aviation Asia Project (WiAA). Launched on August 3rd, the online platform aims to promote inspiring stories of women active in the sector in a bid to encourage others to follow their example.

WiAA founder Katy Chahal told Corporate Jet Investor: “The situation may be bleak at present due to Covid-19. But the industry will turn around. We want to promote gender equality in the aviation and aerospace industries and encourage girls and women to consider careers in the sector.”

Inspiration for the project came during lockdown. Chahal and other members of the team – Mindy Kon, marketing director, Raja Sharmaine, PR and communications director, and Brandon Ching – wanted to pay back to the aviation industry by promoting gender equality. But they didn’t want to ask industry partners for cash when Covid-19 had challenged industry finances.

‘Inspiring stories from women’

“The best option was to create an online platform to promote gender equality without asking any individual or group for money,” said Chahal. “So, we have a website and publish newsletters sharing inspiring stories from women who are active in the aviation industry now. And we have other plans too.”

While industry partners are not contributing money to the project, they are highlighting the inspirational stories of women within their organisations, which are then shared on the WiAA website and its newsletters. The self-funded group has been endorsed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) and includes among its industry partners: ACASS, Asia Jet, Bombardier, Honeywell, Malaysia Airlines and many others.

“Industry partners can make a big contribution by providing mentors as industry experts and showcasing women who are already in aviation,” said Chahal. “Telling their inspirational stories to girls and younger women and women on aviation courses can help them choose a sector of the industry in which to specialise.”

Ching takes up the story. “We aim to improve women’s representation in the industry,” he said. “Central to that is to change the mindset of how people think – how the community thinks. We are looking for equality where men and women work alongside each other without negativity.”

‘Improve women’s representation in the industry’

The WiAA website delivers content about women currently carving out successful careers in aviation in a bid to persuade others to follow their example. The group’s first newsletter featured an interview with the first Malaysian female pilot appointed to the role of captain with a commercial airline. But the focus extends far beyond the flight deck to encompass careers in engineering, law, brokerage, baggage handling, interior design and a wide range of other occupations.

A Covid-19 secure launch event was staged on September 10th 2020 at Skypark RAC, Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, Selangor, Malaysia. Guests from worldwide joined the hybrid event via the web.

Chahal is realistic about the scale of the challenge facing WiAA and other organisations aiming to boost women’s representation in aviation and attract a new generation of girls to the industry.

“It’s not just the aviation industry [that needs to change],” said Chahal. “It’s society’s mindset. The stats are much better in the West because it reflects the mindset of the community about gender tagged roles. In Asia, it’s harder because you find that society is a little more Conservative. So, it will take a little longer to achieve progress.”

Women airline pilots number only about 7,409 worldwide, or about 5.18% of the total, according to a 2018 study by the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.

Both Chahal and Ching believe education is the key to unlocking the challenge of how best to encourage greater gender diversity in aviation and aerospace. “Our whole mindset, as far as youth is concerned, is education,” said Chahal. “Education shouldn’t stop whatever the situation in the industry.”

Chahal is determined to use her skills and experience to campaign for gender equality –  backed by more than a decade of experience in the aviation industry, working with companies like Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney and Rockwell Collins. “I am for gender equality – without undermining anyone – to improve women’s representation in aviation and aerospace.”

Meanwhile, read more about WiAA here and the conributions of Ching and Sharmaine to Corporate Jet Investor’s Asia 2020 conference forum Equal Opportunities in Asian Aviation here.

The WiAA team (L to R): Mindy Kon, Katy Chahal, Brandon Ching and Raja Sharmaine. Pictured  top is

WiAA’s Covid-19-secure launch event at Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, Selangor, Malaysia.