Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Could Girls Help Solve Hawai?i's Pilot Shortage?

wahine_1_0.jpg
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Middle school girls take part in the 2019 Flight School for Girls at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

The aviation industry faces a worldwide shortage of qualified pilots. Hawai?i has an even greater need, given our heavy dependence on air travel. To help close the gap, a summer flight school is targeting girls who have often been overlooked as future pilots -- and exposing them to a career that could take them anywhere.

A half dozen or so middle school girls with clipboards in hand inspect every aspect of the plane on the tarmac of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island.

wahine_2.jpg
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
/
Middle school-aged girls complete a pre-flight safety inspection of this World War II-era Seabee during the week-long Flight School for Girls at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

"What aviators do before they get into the air...they go thoroughly over an airplane and they?re learning what they need to do,” says Shauna Tonkin, education director at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

She’s been running the week-long summer flight school for girls since 2012.

“I wanted girls to have an opportunity to experience aviation and other STEM activities in a very safe environment,” says Tonkin, “Sometimes in middle school, boys can be rambunctious and exuberant and even though girls are very capable they sometimes take a backseat.”

IMG_3265.JPG
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
/
Getting young girls in the cockpit is the goal. Here they take turns simulating different scenarios while sitting in the hot seat.

Not these girls.

Commander Jeanie Blankenship is a career pilot with the U.S. Navy. She enrolled her 11-year-old daughter Journey Lynn Paluseo in the flight school program.

“I came through many many years ago, and we didn’t have quite the support that I’m seeing for young ladies today. I think it’s fantastic,” says Blankenship.

48147806667_0a2cee2047_z.jpg
Credit Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
/
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Commander Jeanie Blankenship and her daughter Journey Lynn climb into a state-of-the-art flight pilot simulator at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

She says Journey Lynn can’t stop talking about flight school.

“I’m like learn something and teach your mama when you get home,” says Blankenship, “And she’s been doing it, and I love it!”

Hawai?i pilot Annie Domko heads the local chapter of Women in Aviation International and is a fan of the summer flight school.

wahine_4.jpg
Credit Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
/
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Wahine aviators drop in for the winging ceremony at the Flight School for Girls. Annie Domko (second from the left) is president of the Hawai'i Chapter of Women in Aviation International.

“If you can?t see it, you can?t believe it,” says Domko, “And that is the point of getting them so young is that they probably go through an airport and they really don?t see a lot of women represented.”

The Federal Aviation Administration says a little more than 4 percent of the airline pilots in the U.S. are women. At Hawai?i's largest carrier Hawaiian Airlines, an estimated 10 percent of the pilots are women. 

wahine_3.jpg
Credit Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
/
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
Young girls on their final day of training.

Domko says there is so much untapped potential among females.

“Industry-wide, it is a pilot shortage,” says Domko. “They cannot fill the amount of spots at the rate at which people are reaching that mandatory retirement age.”

48147875452_e1cde8a46a_z.jpg
Credit Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
/
Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

She says if not enough is done, the shortage could be bad for business, resulting in fewer flights and higher airfares.

Back at the flight school, two dozen young girls complete their training and receive their symbolic plastic wings from aviators like Domko. Tonkin says the summer school may not immediately relieve the shortage, but it is a start.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Related Stories