Why you should care
Because we prefer women drivers, and that goes for 39,000 feet.
When Andreas Lubitz slammed a Germanwings plane into a French Alps mountainside last spring, killing himself and 149 others on board, the tragedy sparked debate on how the incident could have been avoided. Stricter mental health regulations. Better monitoring of pilots. Easier-to-open cockpit doors. All of which are well and good, but there’s an easier and more subtle fix, right under our noses: Require one female pilot in the cockpit at all times.
Now, now, before you start your rant in the comment section (there’s time for that later), consider that men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, and they’re far more likely than women to take everyone else down with them. By a 9-to-1 ratio, murder-suicide is a male endeavor, according to the Violence Policy Center, at least in the United States. There are other differences too: When men take their lives, they tend to do so messily — with firearms — while women go for drug overdoses, leaving little for others to clean up. Looking at the data, it’s not hard to conclude that even when it comes to suicide, women are more thoughtful about others. If the chances of a Germanwings repeat decrease with two male pilots in the cockpit, they fall even further when at least one of the pilots is a woman.
To be sure, a woman co-pilot might not have saved the Germanwings flight — the male co-pilot, admittedly, was deliberately locked out of the cockpit. However, there seems to be a growing sense within the commercial airline industry that cockpits could use more of the, uh, feminine touch. In the wake of the Germanwings tragedy, Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil encouraged his pilots to get married. And the leading feminist magazine in Germany, Emma, published an opinion piece arguing for a female-pilot quota to prevent such disasters.
Relax, meninists. It’s not like men are going to vanish from the cockpit altogether, because we’re not likely to achieve parity anytime soon. Only about 5 percent of pilots in the Air Line Pilots Association are women. Some (like us) would consider that massive gender gap reason alone to train and employ more women commercial pilots. That’s the tack that boardrooms in various European countries have taken: Norway (of course), Spain, France and Iceland all require at least 40 percent of corporate board members to be women; Germany recently passed a similar law. About half the countries in the world use some type of gender quota for parliament, according to the Quota Project.
It is true that pilot suicide is extraordinarily rare. Heinrich Großbongardt, managing director of Expairtise, a communications firm for the aviation industry, estimates that there have been five such incidents, including the Germanwings crash, which was the most recent. Compared to the overall global accident rate, “there are far more important areas to work on in order to further improve flight safety,” he says. Another expert simply called our proposal “pretty silly.”
But in our opinion, one pilot suicide is enough. And how often do you truly have a chance to put in place a “two birds with one stone” solution?