Group Wants ‘Airman’ Replaced By Gender Neutral Terms In FAA Documents

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Aviation regulators and authorities are a “find and replace” away from welcoming more females to the industry according to one advocacy group. The Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide (IWOAW) has launched a petition calling for the FAA and others to eliminate airman and airmen from the thousands of pages of rules and regulations they curate and replace them with neutral terms like pilot, aircrew or flight personnel. In the preamble to the petition, IWOAW says it may seem like a small thing, but research has shown that words do matter when it comes to inclusiveness in aviation. “Women do feel ostracized and are steering away from the aerospace careers publicly labelled as men’s careers,” the group said.

Despite a massive effort by groups like IWOAW, industry and educational entities to attract females to aviation, the percentage of female pilots, technicians and most other aerospace specialties remains stubbornly in the single digits. Although the common gender-specific language may seem anachronistic, IWOAW President Mireille Goyer said that as recently as 2016 the FAA changed the name of the Practical Test Standards to the Airman Certification Standards. Officials decided on the name by reasoning that “airman” has become the standard term for those who fly in FAA nomenclature and that changing it would be a massive bureaucratic exercise, she said. IWOAW argues the change could be made with a few key strokes. “Technology makes wording changes in documents a matter of will rather than a matter of means,” the petition preamble says.

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75 COMMENTS

    • Bingo, Mark !! I am SO sick of females demanding this, that and everything else. Get a life ! You’ve achieved equality … a name is nothing more than … a name, or word.

      Every time I see groups lining up hoards of women for Women in This or Girls for That, it drives me insane. If you want to be equal, then BE equal. Stop naming yourself something different. Airman is meant to be a generic term, ladies. “Institute for Woman in Aviation Worldwide” … give me a break! Go away.

  1. This is a legitimate request. In an industry which is male dominate, yet shows a record of better performance and safety record by women aircrew; Why not change the wording. I fly with professional women pilots who every day deal with the women stereo type. Why as men are we so scared that they get the same respect and recognition we do. As the article says, it is a small thing, but it matters. How about Aviator?

  2. “Despite a massive effort by groups like IWOAW, industry and educational entities to attract females to aviation, the percentage of female pilots, technicians and most other aerospace specialties remains stubbornly in the single digits.”

    Given those facts, what fact support that this effort would make any difference?
    It’s change for change sake. Pointless.

  3. In the real world of operations, we referred to ourselves as “pilots”, or “flight crew”, the term “airman” was never used. If the FAA changed the term describing pilots, no one in the real world would care, and may not even notice. I wouldn’t.

  4. How about we put an apostrophe in front of the man part of, well, everything. Then those who care about such things can substitute whatever fluff they like and the rest of us don’t have to have our language redesigned by the newspeak crowd.
    Oh, the mail’man is here. Gotta go.
    Bye.

  5. Sorry, but I am getting sick of this kind of nonsense. And that is what it is. There are a LOT of women pilots and flight crews working for major airlines around the globe as well as charter and corporate aviation. Airman is a generic term. Can we just move on, please?

  6. “It’s anchorMAN, not anchorLADY, and that is a scientific fact!”
    -Champ Kind, Anchorman….also, this entire comment section!

    Seriously though, go ahead and change “airman” to “aircrew”. It doesn’t affect me one bit, and I’m not gonna get my feelings hurt if it gets changed. If that’s the biggest thing you’ve got to get upset over, then we’re doing pretty well.

  7. My wife and I recently completed construction on our Lancair Legacy, and have been flying it a lot. My wife–a highly educated medical pro–has decided that she will be an integral part of the “crew” when we fly, and has embarked on a self-imposed training program to get up to speed. She purchased and completed Rod Machado’s Private Pilot ground school available online. We’ve spent a large number of evenings together watching and discussing the material (great refresher even for an experienced pilot, BTW). She noticed the gender slant almost immediately, and started saying “she” and “her” every time male pronouns were used during the presentations.

    At first, I was annoyed when she did it; it was really distracting. But as we progressed through the lessons the sheer number of times she interrupted became impossible to ignore, and I realized that’s what it’s like if you’re a woman watching the presentation. You have to make a conscious effort to ignore the constant distraction of male-only pronouns.

    I agree that this seems like a small and petty thing, but if it’s easy to change we should make the effort. If it accomplishes nothing else it will be one less thing for my wife to complain about to me.

    • Men spent the last 200 years creating balloons, gliders, powered planes and jets and infrastructure, and airways and working out communications. Maybe women should be appreciative of that vast history of accomplishments that were handed to them the modern opportunity?

      • Tell that to Sophie Blanchard, or Jacqueline Cochran, or Bessie Coleman, or Valentina Tereshkova, or Patty Wagstaff, or all of the women who served as part of the Women Air Service Pilots, or those who flew with the Night Witches. If you don’t know who these women are the information is but a brief Google search away.

        It’s a bit disingenuous to suggest women were not involved in the development of aviation when a) women were, in fact , involved, and b) they were involved despite the fact that men were actively trying to exclude them.

      • Wow Mark F, wow… So, you think that women should thank men for all of the accomplishments made while they were repressed and seen as lower-class citizens? And despite all of that, countless women have prevailed and made huge advancements in aviation. Women like Katherine Wright who spent her life savings helping her brothers design the Wright Flyer. Or Jackie Cochran who set many records and lead WASP which, during WWII, delivered aircraft from U.S. factories to the European Theater (where she wasn’t allowed to fly in a combat role). And Mary Jackson, NASA’s first black female engineer.

          • Fair point Larry but don’t forget that every man to have lived was born from a woman. We might want to call this one a draw…

            Also, I think it’s a little apropos that this comment section is full of men telling women that they shouldn’t care about something.

    • Love what she’s doing. I’m sure it’s irritating. And that’s exactly her point.

      Aviation – GA, in particular – is mostly a realm of older men. I think if we want to be welcoming to the few brave women who want to participate, we could go a little out of our way to do it.

      I will attempt to use “she” and “her” henceforth, when referring to generic aviators.

  8. Well, most descriptive terms for our species still lead back to “man”, and even if we substitute “person” we discriminate against those who identify as something else. I think an entirely new language to replace English is called for. Y’all work on that…but wait until I’m gone, please. I can’t take much more of this.

  9. “Airman” strikes me as a gender neutral term, just like “human,” or “mankind.” My congressman is a female, and seems not to mind being called “congressman,” as that is how she signs her newsletters. As Dwain I. suggests, if women are so dead set against being included in humankind, they should change the word “woman” to just “wo.”

  10. Maybe with fewer new pilots, we should do whatever we can to grow the pilot population? And if changing to a gender-neutral term helps toward that goal, shouldn’t we pursue that?

    Or put another way, would all of you think changing the term to “airwoman” might possibly discourage some males from becoming a pilot?

    • I agree, I have flown for a living for 40 years, some of the best pilots I have flown with are women. Unfortunately we are still in a the days where men think they are superior to women. Not only in aviation. Grow some boys.

    • Technically a male term. The female form is aviatrix. That’s so arcane though that aviator seems like a good substitute for airman just about everywhere. Now that the critical stuff is dealt with, on to the minutia like making notams (er, nta’s) readable.

      • You mean, like actrix?

        Or Asterix?

        Kidding.

        In truth, the -or ending is not masculine. It’s true, there have been attempts – some successful, like “actress” – to create specifically female forms of the generic “one who does” words ending in ‘or. But not many.

        Consider the following -or words that have no female form (that I’m aware of) as evidence for the acceptability of “Aviator” as gender-nonspecific:

        administrator, aggressor, ambassador, ancestor, arbitrator, assessor, auditor, author, censor, collector, commentator, competitor, confessor, conqueror, conspirator, contributor, councillor, counselor, creditor, cultivator, curator, demonstrator, depositor, dictator, director, donor, editor, executor, exterminator, fabricator, generator, governor, imitator, impostor, inheritor, inquisitor, inspector, instigator, instructor, interlocutor, investigator, investor, janitor, juror, legislator, liberator, malefactor, mentor, operator, orator, originator, perpetrator, pollinator, possessor, predecessor, professor, prospector, purveyor, speculator, surveyor, violator, moderator, narrator, sailor, senator, solicitor, spectator, sponsor, tailor, translator, traitor, vendor, visitor, warrior…

        In any case, we could ask the folks at iWOAW if they’d be happy with Aviator.

  11. Female ATP pilot here, and I’m quite tired of beating the boys over the head with my (usually much deeper) resume in order to just be acknowledged as anything other than a “stewardess”. Many of these comments illustrate that mindset perfectly – just because you don’t see anything wrong does not mean nothing is. How about “PILOT”. Or “Captain”, thank you.

    • I have no problem calling you ‘pilot’ or ‘Captain,’ Allie. I have no issue with paying you respect for your aviating accomplishments or “rank,” either. But the crap of a group of females with some sort of chip on their shoulders (IWOAW) taking exception to a simple word is a bit much. I think they may well have a short in their headsets? If you are so offended by some of the terms used generically without real animous, find a different line of work. If you’ve experienced negative feedback from some, sorry … it wasn’t me. Confusing the use of a generic word with an action taken by some people who mistake you for something else are two different things. I dare say it didn’t come from most of the fallacious men in this blog, either.

      Elsewhere just now today on Avweb, they’re talking about the death of Katherine Johnson. She didn’t demand special names for herself. She quietly went about her work and was respected and admired and recognized for it. In fact, early on in my very long time at Edwards AFB, I worked with some of the early NACA “computers” who were transferred there years earlier from NACA Langley. Amazing ladies who were true genius’! No one ever ordered anyone to feel that way. When you’re in the midst of genius … you know it. As soon as you demand something — thinking the squeaky wheel gets the grease — you ain’t gettin’ it from me. In fact, I’ll gnaw my arms off to go the other way … on purpose. Sure wish I could print what I really think about this subject. Now then … bring me a drink and fly the damn airplane.

    • Hi Allie,

      I’m not sure all references to “airman” refer to pilots. I am pretty sure not all of them refer to the Captain. Hence, the suggested “aviator” sounded right to me.

      I’m sorry you feel you struggle to acknowledged as anything other than a stewardess – for both reasons.

  12. As a 30 year Aviation Safety Inspector (now retired), the main point that’s being overlooked here is what this “little change” will cost in real tax dollars. In typical FAA/Government fashion, there will be hours upon hours of work groups, studies, training sessions etc. Not to mention the obvious printing/re-printing costs to avoid “possibly” offending “some”.

    In 30 years, I never once addressed anyone as airmen/airman. I’ve called them captain, first officer, pilot in command, pilot, CFI, Instructor, sir or ma’am. Isn’t that what’s really important, how we speak to each other, not what’s in writing.

  13. I really don’t believe making this name change will really change nor increase the female pilot ranks, female mechanics, nor any other aviation oriented job description.

    Those, such as Katherine Johnson, Patty Wagstaff, Jackie Cochran, Pancho Barnes, Katherine Stinson, Amelia Earhart, and many other women past and present, were and are, passionate about aviation. However, from 1903 through today, the percentage of women interested in aviation enough to participate has been virtually the same. Compared to males, women are not generally interested aviation, particularly flying. Likewise, when it comes to turning wrenches. The numbers are very steady during times of vast gender inequalities during our past, with no real uptick when those barriers have been significantly improved upon. Even with the last 10 years of intense focus, marketing, and women guided organizations like WIA and IWOAW being uplifted at Oshkosh, through virtually every aviation magazine and trade publication ( printed or online), the numbers are relatively the same. Maybe, just maybe, the vast majority of women, just are not interested in aviation.

    There is no doubt in my mind that women who find flying as an avocation are equally adept at flying as men. Women get paid the same as men in the cockpit. Modern aviation has taken a lead in gender equality when it comes to pay. Women airline captains make the same as their counterpart. But it seems the idea
    of flying, the passion it takes to go from student to rated pilot is not that interesting to most females. And if it is, their passion overcomes the challenges, regardless of the associated circumstances good and bad including gender hassles ( of which any discriminatory practices I do not sanction).

    Doing all it takes to becoming an aviator, male or female, has proven to be a career or recreational interest not shared by the masses. It takes dedication, hard work, preparation, lots-o-time, and overcoming financial challenges to become someone who is reasonably safe and comfortable in an ever moving, 3D environment. And after spending all of this energy, time, resources, and preparation, the pay scale is not so high as to be an additional incentive. In other words, in today’s technical world, pay is a lot higher for a lot less overall personal investment in areas outside of aviation. Most of us in aviation do it because we are jazzed by it making many sacrifices to stay in it.

    Look at an average car service center, the mechanics are predominately male. Pretty much the same for all motor-sport activities. Women who desire opportunities in those arenas, because they become passionate and immersed into it, can compete and excel. However, comparatively few women have an interest in those areas. Are they aware of the opportunities? Yes. But most are not interested enough to make it a career choice or recreation they desire to participate in.

    In spite of equal capability in many endeavors, men and women are not hard-wired the same. Nor are men and women’s bodies equally the same. Therefore, interests for the majority are not necessarily the same. God created Adam from the dirt of the earth. Even if you are not a person of faith, you still have to wrestle with the scientific fact that we all have a DNA trail that includes dirt. Eve was formed from Adam’s rib. Eve came from a sophisticated , fully functioning body. That speaks volumes why guys like to play in the dirt and girls don’t. It also speaks volumes on the sophistication of women, whose thinking in many areas of life far outshines that of us men. It speaks volumes on why women think much more clearly in areas of life we men either have no interest in or are not nearly as adept. Men and women were designed to be complimentary of each other, different in some ways, but equal in importance, equal in dignity, equal in family relationships.

    While history has proven that mankind has not treated each other fairly or justly, with women treated largely as less than human, these modern societal attempts to unisex our thinking and behavior in attempts to right a history of wrong, while noble and needed, does not seem to consider while men and women are human and should be treated equally, men and women are different in so many ways.

    I have no problem with making some name changes to help in the endeavor of equality. I can appreciate Allie the ATP’s statement – “just because you don’t see anything wrong does not mean nothing is”. If a few word changes can help, why not? It’s good for both parties. But, the changes will not make flying more palatable or interesting for women. Those, male and female, who get bitten by the flying bug, will become pilots whether they are called airmen, pilots, or aviators/aviatrixes. But that bug does not infect the masses.

    Having stepped out in the non-politically correct view of a unisex society, I add another question. If in the quest for politically correct verbiage for male and female aviators, what do we do about the new dilemma of naming airplanes, cars, boats, motorcycles, etc almost exclusively after women? No more Miss Behave, Daisy, or Miss Bardahl. If we cannot have airmen, we cannot have gender exclusive names for our toys either. Think about the change necessary in aircraft nose art. I am not ready for a naked picture of Burt Reynolds or Joe Namath on the nose of a fighter. Glamorous Glennis would have to come off the X-1.

    • > Maybe, just maybe, the vast majority of women, just are not interested in aviation.

      Or maybe, just maybe, they don’t feel welcome. Look at all the hostility in the comments here over simply acknowledging the fact that not all pilots are males. One poster suggested women should be grateful for all men have “done” for them.

      > But it seems the idea of flying, the passion it takes to go from student to rated pilot is not that interesting to most females.

      It DOES take passion to pursue a career in the cockpit, because the training and discipline is hard. Is it possible that the added difficulties women face might have some effect on the numbers?

      > Look at an average car service center, the mechanics are predominately male.

      Please. I worked at a vehicle service center for a time. Ever see the calendars on the walls, listen to the banter? I saw a young woman’s “interest” in her own mechanical aptitude destroyed by her co-workers’ relentless chauvinism. In my experience women lack of interest in motorsports because men in that arena view women as little more than adornment for beautiful cars.

      > But, the changes will not make flying more palatable or interesting for women.

      We’ll never know unless we try. Thomas Paine said: “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”

        • It’s called unconscious bias. Everyone has some biases that they unconsciously express, whether they intend to or not, and without realizing it. But the recipient of those biases certainly notice them.

          If you don’t think little things like terminology matter, try consciously replacing every use of “sir” or “airman” with “ma’am” or “airwoman” and see if it doesn’t make you (as a male) feel at least a little dissuaded.

          • Now “cockpit” is an expression of unconscious bias? Oh my gawd.
            What are we to make of “turtledeck?” Unconscious tortoise bias?

            Here in the Peoples Republik of Massachusetts, this kind of mental manure is our version of San Francisco’s fecal follies.

            Trust me – there is no end to PERCEIVED gender bias. The city council of New York City INVENTED 31 genders, to address this urgent and vital issue. Regardless of the quality of your hallucinogens, you cannot make up this stuff.

            Go ahead – do it. Just TRY to remove all of that “unconscious bias” from the English language. And all of the other 54 languages that are in common usage in the United States. Send me the bill, of course. And please let me know when you’re finished, so I can bestow appropriate appreciation for your efforts.

            Related questions: Why do males comprise 9.6% of the population of registered nurses, nationwide? Why do males comprise 11% of the population of elementary school teachers, nationwide? Unconscious bias?

          • I was specifically responding to the use of “airman”, not “cockpit”.
            But in any case, if a minority group (female pilots) say certain aviation terms have sexist connotations, the response should not be “it doesn’t offend me, so too bad”. That *certainly* won’t encourage them to join the pilot community.

            One doesn’t have to agree to take a certain action to acknowledge that there might be something worth considering there.

          • > Why do males comprise 9.6% of the population of registered nurses, nationwide? Why do males comprise 11% of the population of elementary school teachers, nationwide?

            Because men in those professions are looked at as sissies by other men. Don’t believe me?

            Free throw percentage is one of the stats tracked for NBA players. Study after study has shown that making free throws underhanded–so-called “granny” style–improves accuracy. In the 61-62 season, Wilt Chamberlain improved his free throw accuracy to a career best 61.3% by switching to underhanded throws, including the game he scored 100 pts.

            Despite the positive result, Chamberlain stopped throwing underhanded, and his percentage dropped below 50% in seven subsequent seasons, and hit a low mark of 38% in 67-68. Why did Chamberlain stop throwing underhanded free throws despite the obvious improvement? In his autobiography, he wrote, “I felt silly, like a sissy, shooting underhanded. I know I was wrong, I know some of the best foul shooters in history shot that way. I just couldn’t do it.”

      • It just hit me this AM … EVERY FAA term can be changed to some sort of gender neutral to satiate these ingrates and “they” will still be referred to as ‘woman’ (singular) or ‘women’ (plural) or females. THEN what’re they gonna do? Find more stuff to complain about? And to whom will those complaints be waged?

        That’s what we get for letting them out of the kitchen and giving ’em shoes. Give me my darned rib back … and then start opening your own darned car doors, fixing your own broken items and lifting your own heavy stuff ! And while you’re at it IWOAW, get off your high horse and pay attention to flying the airplane. Sterile cockpit, please.

        Signed
        Crusty

  14. “Women do feel ostracized and are steering away from the aerospace careers publicly labelled as men’s careers,” the group said.”

    I wonder how IWOAW came up with statistical proof to back up this assertion. I am not sure what the determining factors are that creates the public labeling aviation as a man’s career only. Whatever those factors are means the public is partially to blame for the lack of women in aviation as well as incorrect verbiage.

    No where do I see aviation being promoted in any way as a “man’s career”. Since controlled, heavier-than-air flight started, it has been statistically consistent women have made up 10% or less of the total pilot population. This number has remained consistent even with all of the progress regarding women’s rights during the last 100+ years. This number remains consistent even with all the lobbying efforts by IWOAW and other women’s aviation groups, the feminist movement, the sexual revolution, Rosie the Riveter, with all of the women’s promotions by aviation companies actively seeking women’s participation. Even with all of the failures demonstrated by the affirmative action attempts of the 70-80’s, the number of women in aviation remains at 7-10%. What is it so hard to grasp that women are largely not attracted to flying and aviation?

    In any vocation dominated by women, or dominated by men, there are people within those vocations who can be genuine pain in the necks because of their gender prejudices. But those folks do not determine if the opposite sex wants to be a part of that particular vocation. Nor do their prejudicial attitudes reflect attitude the entire industry.

    Male nurses make up a statistical similarity to women in aviation. Most female nurses have no problem with a male wanting to be nurses. A few do. Since the word nurse carries a common world-view of women because ever since nursing as a career has existed, it has been dominated by women, does that mean the majority of women nurses have a natural prejudice against men becoming nurses? And therefor are there men’s groups demanding a name change to a gender neutral term such as health care support specialist to make the idea of becoming a nurse more palatable for men? Is the reason why only 10% of men are nurses because of gender bias determined by the word nurse? In other words would a large percentage of the 90% of men who are now not nurses would become a nurse if the gender-biased term nurse was eliminated? What is so hard to understand? The larger percentage of males do not want to become nurses.

    Most men could care less if the other crew members are women. What is frustrating IWOAW implies that verbiage such as airman is re-enforcing a recruitment
    gender prejudice that is really not there. It seems like IWOAW cannot grasp the idea that women are not that interested in aviation or aviation based careers. There has to be someone or something to blame for the statistical fact 90% of women do not want to fly, nor want to be a part of aviation. Apparently, there is something wrong with 90% of women because deep down many more have a latent desire to fly but have been held back because of incorrect verbiage. This suggests that IOWAW really doesn’t think much of women’s decision making capabilities regarding career choices since women can be so easily headed off from their passion to fly by a few words.

    Can there be room for improvement in aviation recruitment? Sure. Is there occasional gender bias suffered by men and women in today’s society? Sure. It is not a sterile world.

    We need all the pilot, mechanic, and aviation career support as possible. But is a major impediment for women’s interest and participation in aviation stunted by verbiage? No. I give more credit to women and their passion for aviation than IOWAW does.

    Now, I want to know who to blame for 90% of the nurses being women?

  15. A total non issue, but sure, call the generic pilot “Aviator” if it bugs you so much.

    If the word “airman” discourages you to such a degree that it causes you discomfort because it doesn’t directly represent you, you probably don’t have the mental fortitude necessary to be a good pilot who can function under adverse conditions and not wind up killing people. There have been and are plenty of admirable female aviators, none of them were so weak willed to let a quirk of the language stop them.

  16. The issue is asinine. It’s childish and petty. There’s an implication that the word ‘airman’ is gender specific. While the word ‘airwoman’ is actually defined, it isn’t as if the word ‘airman’ takes away from the specialty. It isn’t as if the word mistakes a woman for a man. It doesn’t even imply that the title is for men only.

    To me, this story only amplifies a fact that feminism is nothing more than thinly veiled sexism. The word ‘woman’ has the word ‘man’ in it. Does that word qualify in this confused complaint?