Women in Aviation: Tucson female pilot wins safe flying award

Women in Aviation: Tucson female pilot wins safe flying award
Barbara Harper was recently awarded the Wright Brother Master Pilot Award. (Source: KOLD)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -As holiday travel kicks off, airlines are taking more than 31 million people around the US. It’s a busy time of year for the nation’s pilots, especially as numbers show there is a decline in pilots. There are 633,317 civilian pilots in the US, according to the latest FAA numbers. About 46,500 of those are women—and half of those women are students.

Recently, the FAA established a Women in Aviation Advisory Board because of this disparity, and an overall pilot shortage.

The US Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao said, “Our nation is facing a shortage of pilots and aviation professionals; there are great opportunities in this sector, and we want to encourage more women to enter these exciting professions.”

The pilot shortage isn’t new news. Last year the FAA said the number of pilots has decreased in the US by 30 percent since the ’80s, but at the same time, the International Air Transport Association guesses air travel will double over the next 20 years.

A challenging field with a high demand might still have a glass ceiling, but Barbara Harper, a pilot in Tucson broke flew through that ceiling.

Her story starts when Harper lived in San Francisco as a young adult but had to work in L.A.

“So, every weekend, I’d fly commercial to San Francisco, and I thought, ‘I need to get a plane,’” said Harper.

A little at a time, and over the course of several years, she did her schooling, collected her licenses and flew, mostly children at first. She said adults are far too critical of pilots.

“I liked the challenge, and I just liked the feeling of what it makes you feel like when you fly, it’s so free,” said Harper.

She had to overcome many challenges in her career, she said mainly because she is a woman. In 1960, there were about 10,000 female pilots in the US.

“When I’d go pre-flight the plane, all the air mechanics …they’d taken all these tiny little pieces of paper and wrote on them terrible messages and stuck them in all the instruments of the plane, so I had to pull out, I think there were over 200 of them,” said Harper.

But now, 50 years later, she was awarded the Wright Brother Master Pilot Award. It’s given to those with more than 50 years of continuous safe flying. For Harper, it proves she, and anyone can do anything.

“Don’t let anybody stop you. Don’t let anybody stop you at any time because there’s no such thing as a one-gender job. I haven’t found it yet, have you?” said Harper.

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