Men and women are different. But knowing how they are different when it comes to flight training is not well known. I enjoyed statistics courses in college and graduate school, so I decided to conduct a mail survey to find out about the differences. The findings are summarized in this article.
The idea for the survey came from being invited by the 99s to be the keynote speaker for their breakfast held at AOPA Expo 2008 in San Jose, CA. But I wondered, what could I speak about that could possibly be relevant to this group of women aviators?
A review of FAA Airman statistics showed that over the prior ten years, women consistently...
Preliminary results were presented to the 99s in 2008. But many more surveys came in later and in October 2010 I added in the additional surveys and analyzed the data in greater detail. 1-tailed T-tests were used to determine whether the differences between women who completed a pilot certificate and those who didn’t were statistically significant. T-test results were considered significant if they achieved .05 or lower, the standard commonly used for social science studies. It means that if the study were repeated 20 times, the same results would be found 19 out of the 20 times.
I was unable to prove my hypothesis that women who use a female CFI are more likely to finish flight training. 28% of women surveyed who completed a pilot certificate used a female CFI, while only 17% of women who discontinued pilot training used a female CFI. However, this difference was significant only to the .22 level and hence the difference was not statistically significant. However, other significant differences were found.
Barriers to Completing Flight Training
Of the 55 usable surveys from women, 10 were still receiving training and were excluded from the results in this section. Of the remainder, 33 completed a pilot certificate and 12 had discontinued pilot training.
The most significant factor was the age at which women started pilot training. On average, women who completed training started at age 35 with a standard deviation of 10 years. The average starting age for women who discontinued training was almost 46 years old, with a standard deviation of 16 years. The T-test results were significant to the .006 level. As one respondent who started training at age 54 and completed her certificate commented, “Biggest challenge was having the confidence that my middle-age reflexes and brain would be able to master a difficult new skill!”
There were a number of other statically significant differences. When asked to rate their instructors, women who didn’t complete a certificate were significantly less likely to rate their instructor as “well-prepared” or “Accepting of me and others.”
28 (51%) of female respondents considered discontinuing their flight training and chose at least one of 21 possible reasons. “I didn’t have enough time/I got busy with other things” and “I had money issues” were both cited by 14 of the 28 respondents.
Some of the differences between the completed certificate and didn’t complete certificate groups were surprising. For example, “I had issues with my flight instructor” was the third most common reason cited by 12 respondents. This factor was significant to the .03 level, however it was the group that completed their certificates that were significantly more likely to cite this reason. Presumably there were also more effective at resolving the issues.
“I couldn’t see a practical reason to get a license” was the only other factor that was significantly different. Women who didn’t complete a certificate were more likely to cite this factor, which was significant to the .04 level. “I had money issues” just missed the cutoff, being significant only to the .08 level. Interestingly, the women who completed their certificates were more likely to cite this as a factor for considering stopping their training, but they nonetheless completed their training.
Two factors we thought might be significant differentiators turned out not to be. When asked “Did you have a mentor or pilot friend who coached you through the process,” 41% of certificate holders said yes as did 42% of those who discontinued pilot training. “Are there other members in your family with a pilot license” was only significant to the 0.13 level. 61% of certificate holders said yes as did 42% of those who discontinued pilot training.
Results – Perceived Differences between Male and Female instructors
Of the 55 usable surveys from women, 40 said that the instructor they used most often was a male, 13 said the instructor they used most was a female. Two indicated an equal split between using male and female instructors and those results were excluded from this portion of the results.
Respondents were asked to rate the CFI they used most often on 20 different characteristics. A 1-tailed T-test was used to identify whether the perceived differences between male and female instructors were significantly different. A cutoff of .05, was used for significance.
The following characteristics met this test for significance:
Male CFIs were more likely to be rated:
- Chronically unprepared
- Difficult to Schedule
Female CFIs were more likely to be rated:
- Accepting of me and others
All flight instructors were rated highly for being:
- Neatly Dressed
The role of the flight instructor as being central to the flight training process came out unequivocally in the comments section. The last section of the survey stated: “Feel free to write in any additional comments that you feel may provide additional insights into the challenges you faced in flight training, and any reasons that you continued or discontinued flight training.” 39 of the 55 female surveys included a written comment and 26, or 67%, of the comments included the word instructor or CFI. Here are some representative samples of the comments:
“I had three instructors. The first left to get more commercial experience. The second was unprepared and disorganized for each flight when I thought my training was never going to end I thought about stopping. My third instructor was wonderful—organized, friendly with great communication skills.”
“Always felt as if my instructor (primary) was continuously challenging me - if I had problems with something he was willing to work on ways to overcome them – He challenged me, but did not overwhelm and recognized how hard to push and when to ease up and keep it fun.”
“Supportive instructors who are knowledgeable are the most important. After my private I had 2 really bad instructors, one for a BFR and one for a complex aircraft checkout. If I’d been a student pilot I probably wouldn’t have recognized that they were bad.”
Flight Schools should provide extra attention and support to female students pilots (and perhaps to all student pilots) who are 50 years and older, since some will find learning to fly more difficult. They should also consider matching female student pilots with female CFIs when possible.
Since 50% of all student pilots consider discontinuing flight training, flight school management should regularly communicate with all student pilots to identify if they are considering discontinuing flight training. Significant obstacles to flight training are time, money and CFI issues.
The database of a large Part 61 flight school in California was used to identify survey recipients based upon their name. Ambiguous male/female names (e.g. Terry) were not used. Since it wasn’t possible to identify with 100% percent certainty that a name was female, a question was included in the survey about whether the recipient was male/female. Three of the 58 surveys returned were from men and these were excluded from analysis.
An initial group of 158 women who took flight training were identified. According to the database, approximately half of these people were licensed. The other half included people who were still active but had not completed a license and people who had terminated but didn’t have a license listed in the database.
A double-sided survey was and prior to mailing the survey, an email was sent to the 132 people on the list who had an email address. Approximately 1 week later, a second email was sent encouraging people to return the survey.
After the initial surveys were returned, it was determined that there were relatively few returns from people who’d never completed pilot training. Therefore, an additional 27 people were identified in the flight school database for whom no license was shown and additional surveys were mailed for a total of 185 surveys mailed. 28 surveys were returned for an invalid mailing address. A total of 58 surveys were returned for an astounding 37% return rate of the delivered surveys.
Surveys were entered into an Excel database and tabulated. The data was sorted in two ways for analysis. In the first case, women who’d completed a pilot certificate were compared against women who had stopped pilot training and had not completed a certificate. In the second case, the data was sorted to compare women with male CFI’s versus those with female CFI’s.
Earned Certificate: 33
Currently Training: 10
Discontinued Training: 13
Plan to Try Again: 7
Number of Respondents for Each Potential Issue for Discontinuing Flight Training:
_14__I didn’t have enough time/I got busy with other things
_4__My instructor left the flight school (e.g. for the airlines)
_0__I didn’t like flying
_1__Flying was more difficult than I thought
_14__I had money issues
_0__Flying wasn’t fun
_12__I had issues with my flight instructor
_0__I’d been mislead about what it would take to become a pilot
_1__I got bored with flight training
_4__I couldn’t see a practical reason to get a license
_1__I decided not to pursue a career in aviation
_1__Flying seemed too dangerous
_0__I couldn’t pass the FAA medical
_0__I completed training but decided not to take checkride
_0__I achieved my objective (e.g. solo)
_7__Training was unstructured; my training path wasn’t clear, understandable and consistent
_3__I found flying stressful
_0__Didn’t like talking on the radio
_1__I was scared by flying
_0__Because another family member wanted me to stop