Student Pilot Totals Increase, Female Participation Up


“The FAA issued 69,503 new student pilot certificates in 2023, up 13,334 over the previous year.” Statistics released by the FAA to coincide with International Women’s Day continued to show incremental growth in interest in aviation, with at least 7,102 women taking the first step compared with 5,566 in 2022, according to the stats. The stats also revealed that both sexes are taking it up ever later in life, with the average age of all student pilots going up to 35.2 in 2023 compared to 35.1 the previous year. It continues a trend that started in 2010 when the average student age was 31.4. It should be noted that student pilot stats must be considered separately from certificated numbers because the FAA stopped expiring student pilot permits in 2016 and because many don’t cancel them when they leave flying without gaining a certificate.

Meanwhile the total number of certificated pilots in the U.S. increased by 14,124 to 490,470 and 3,287 of those were women, accounting for 6.8 percent of the total pilot population. Of that total, 174,113 active ATPs were listed (up 7,375) and 9,071 female ATPs were counted (up 865) meaning 5.2 percent of ATPs are women. All pilot categories showed at least some increase in numbers over the year except for the recreational certificate. Only 71 recreational certificates were issued in 2023, down from 79 in 2022. There were 220 recreational certificates issued in 2014.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Russ, thank you for this article. All great info. The best stat here is that 23% of the newly certified pilots are women. This is great news. I hope that this number will be 50% sooner than later.

  2. It is great that there are more pilots. I think podcasts and online aviation publications have contributed to bringing down the barriers to interested applicants.

  3. Here we go again, more hyphenated pilots. How does excluding white males from pilot training improve aviation? Where is the evidence that more female pilots improves aviation? Cite accident statistics, the cost of flight training, the cost of airline travel, cost to operate airports, etc. If “diversity” is supposedly a good thing, where is the evidence in dollars and cents? DEI means Discrimination, Exclusion, and Ignorance.

    • I’m afraid to inform you Kent. That train left the station a long time ago. Performance as a primary requirement is not a major requirement anymore. I don’t even think it’s much of a consideration. All you have to be is something other than a white male and stay at the
      Holiday Inn for a couple of nights and you’re go to go.

  4. The fact that women are specifically mentioned in the FAA stats (and this article) is blatant sexism. This is even more evidence that men are an oppressed and marginalized group.

  5. Men are bad. Women are good. It is what it is. Everybody knows this. Start singing with the chorus or else.

  6. This is not about gender, or justice or a crusade; It’s business.
    Make women feel “special” and they will buy cigarettes, motorcycles…. or flight time.

  7. Why should diversity, equity, and inclusion require exclusion of white males? For hundreds of years people of color and women (neither of which am I) have been systematically and actively excluded from all sorts of career paths claiming they were not intellectually or physically capable of doing a good job. With that sort of history, it is no wonder some positive effort is needed to open aviation’s doors to them.

    I’ve been an active pilot for 60 years. When I first started in this endeavor, and while in the USAF, I never saw a female or black flying. Even now, I rarely do. But when I do, I always wonder what predjudices and cynicism they had to overcome to get, and stay, where they are. Those folks passed the same damn competency tests to fly as has everyone else, and I’m sick of hearing a bunch white guys whining about it.

    • “With that sort of history, it is no wonder some positive effort is needed to open aviation’s doors to them.” What is the evidence that the door has not been open to them for the past 60 years. Like Arthur said, flight schools will take anyone’s money. Where is the evidence that women or blacks have been turned away based on their identity?

  8. WBJohn, we are not Neanderthals and the numbers don’t lie. United Airlines has a stated goal of hiring 50% women/people of color for pilot positions. In 2023 they beat that objective by a country mile, coming in at around 70%… That means somewhere around 30% of the pilots hired by United were white males. DEI may sound good to you in theory, but in practice it is clearly being used as a racist tool against white males.

    Were there barriers to minorities and women becoming pilots? Yes. But now those barriers of old are being used as an excuse to commit blatant discrimination against white males…

  9. I agree that there is some sexism in hiring–companies obviously ARE hiring to meet “Parity” goals–not necessarily the best candidates. That is just as wrong as EXCLUDING people due to gender, race, or religion.

    We can’t undo the injustices of the past by substituting those same injustices today to promote an “agenda.”

    To make the selection “color/gender blind”–the initial screening should be designed to not include that information. Yes, it will be apparent at the interview–but that does mean that everybody has the same shot at the jobs. Insisting on “equal outcome” is NOT the same as “equal opportunity.”

    In some cases, it becomes even HARDER to find candidates to produce “parity”–AVIATION MECHANICS, for example. One would have to hire nearly every female graduate of A&P schools in order to meet “parity”–regardless of their class ranking or other qualifications. This would make the current A&P shortage even MORE critical.

    Government edict and regulation of new hires would be like “rationing or diluting the pot of porridge”–rather than “making a larger pot of porridge”–almost any business would welcome more and better qualified applicants. Government should be the “guarantor of equal opportunity”–NOT the “arbiter of outcome.”

  10. Just ban the hire of all white males until parity is reached.
    Get it over with and make everybody happy who loves to push that agenda.
    The outcome is inevitable.

    • It’s illegal to hire in the USA based on race or gender.
      That’s because it was hard earned goal of the Civil Rights Movement.

      • You’re right, the Civil Rights Movement fought hard for equal opportunity in hiring. Now, the focus is on finding the most qualified person for the job, regardless of race or gender.

  11. Qualified women have always been around, but the opportunities haven’t. DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) programs are about opening doors, not handing out participation trophies. Look, we’ve all heard the bullshit: “These diversity programs are just a way to keep white men out of the cockpit!” That’s a sorry ass way of dressing up negativity towards women pilots as concern for another group. Let’s call it what it is: thinly disguised misogyny.

    • I agree, Raf. It may be true that flight instructors had always accepted money from anyone who had it, but the obvious conclusion is that women and people of color were subtly made to feel inadequate or unqualified to begin. Their long-time absence from aviation is proof enough that women were encouraged to stay pregnant in the kitchen and people of color did best in manual labor

      • LOL, who hasn’t felt inadequate when first learning instrument flying? If you want it then you push through your “feelings”.

    • DEI is political, so it’s nonsense. There are no closed doors for those willing to get their shyte together and work hard for available positions.

  12. Poor White men, they are do disadvantaged in the US today. I don’t know how you commenters have the will to get out of bed in the morning, seeing how the whole game is rigged against you. At least, that is how your comments read.

    It must be very distressing to see an effort to restore equity to those historically prevented from certain opportunities.

  13. Expanding the number of female pilots in the pool means that we have more qualified pilots from which the airlines can choose irrespective of gender. Just like adding women to the labor force (particularly in an underdeveloped country) will grow GDP.

  14. Great article, Russ! The latest FAA pilot statistics are definitely encouraging. Yup, they show a clear increase in both new student pilots and total certificated pilots in the US from 2014 to 2023. More importantly, there’s also a rise in the number of women entering flight training, which is fantastic news!

    However, it seems there’s been a misunderstanding by the AVweb fellowship here. This article focuses on the trends and statistics themselves, not on DEI initiatives or Affirmative Action programs. This confusion appears to have ruffled some feathers, hissy fits, but hopefully everyone can take a deep breath and move on.

    • Raf, the numbers of actual pilots (not students) and non-pilot mechanics on the cited on that FAA spreadsheet is remarkably flat year over year. That is hardly fantastic news. The whole story has that air of propaganda when you considering both the release date and the intended purpose.

      • If they like running around in circles with their hair on fire and it makes them happy let them report on it. Who really gives a damn? It’s all irrelevant.

        • When it’s the FAA, I do give a damn about what they are doing. Just remember that it’s an American tradition to complain about government then that makes ME feel better. 😉

    • Thanks, Raf. As for the, uh, related arguments, I’ve decided that if there is some relevance in a comment to an issue that could be associated with the matter at hand I will let it stand. DEI is a hot button issue and while it’s uncomfortable for many readers to see the level of, uh, passion expressed by some contributors, as long as they aren’t overtly offensive or inaccurate they can see light of day here. They are, after all, part of the landscape in dealing with these issues and we might as well see them for what they are. I get a lot of complaints from readers who just don’t want to read these opinions but to nuke them just because they can be hard to read would be dishonest and would hinder the debate in my opinion.

  15. Arthur, I understand your point about the FAA’s timing on releasing the information. However, it interested me, so I studied, analyzed, and interpreted the Excel files with the latest FAA statistics, in particular Table 2, accounting for women pilot gains or losses from the year 2014 through 2023. The numbers are promising, take a look at my summary:

    U.S. Civil Airmen Statistics, 2023, Active Women Airmen Certificates Held (Table 2)


    This table shows the estimated number of active women airmen certificates held in various categories from 2014 to 2023. Here’s a breakdown by category:

    Pilot Category:

    • Total: There’s been a steady increase in the total number of Pilot certificates held by women, with a significant jump (111.36%) between 2023 and 2014. In 2023, there were 83,109 certificates held by women, compared to 39,322 in 2014.


    • Student: This category saw the most dramatic growth, with a 243% increase between 2014 and 2023. The number of certificates jumped from 14,369 in 2014 to 49,286 in 2023.

    • Recreational (only): This category shows minimal fluctuation, with only 6 certificates held by women in both 2014 and 2023.

    • Sport: The number of women holding Sport Pilot certificates has seen a small increase from 192 in 2014 to 291 in 2023.

    • Private: The number of women with Private Pilot certificates has gone through peaks and valleys ultimately closing 2023 with a (21.8%) gain. From 11,652 in 2014 to 14,192 in 2023.

    • Commercial: While there’s been an overall increase (49.15%) since 2014, the number of women holding Commercial Pilot certificates show some fluctuation. Starting at 6,685 in 2013 to a high of 9,971 in 2023 with low points during previous years.

    • Airline Transport: The number of women with ATP certificates has grown (41.56%) but with some fluctuation. It reached 9,071 in 2023 from a low of 6,408 in 2013.

    • Flight Instructor Certificates: The number of women holding Flight Instructor certificates has also seen significant growth (72.12%) between 2014 and 2023, increasing from 6,521 to 11,224.

    • Flight Attendant certificates: Here’s another category of interest as the numbers are impressive. Women Flight Attendants data show significant growth (28.71%) between 2014 and 2023, increasing from 150,941 to 194,332 respectively. I worked with two female flight attendants, partiming as flight instructors working their way to jobs with Skywest and AA. I am glad for them.

    What I would like to know is what are the factors contributing to this trend. Perhaps increased media exposure of successful female pilots and targeted programs showcasing their achievements are inspiring more women to explore aviation careers.

    • As Russ pointed out, the students numbers of table 1 and table 2 are inaccurate as the FAA explains in Note 1. The student certificates no longer expire. The growth in these “student numbers” are more a representation of dropouts than progress. It does show than women are far more likely to drop out of the training system than men but overall, the training system wasted at least 200,000 pilot candidates in the last decade alone.

      Moreover, many students are never counted in this category because they get their student certificate and move to private within one calendar year. That is why table 17 is the only reliable information about “new blood” but the FAA does not publish gender breakdown for this data.

      As far as an explanation is concerned, I’d like to think that my article in AVweb in 2010 ( that got the ABCs and the industry to increase visual representation of women in publications helped. As you know, the Institute for Women Of Aviation Worldwide (iWOAW) has continued to bring the subject to foreground forcing stakeholders to respond to public pressure. Messaging is critical to offset widely accepted perceptions. The U.S. female pilot population grew from 4,218 to 26,896 between 1960 and 1980 thanks to the 70s feminist movement message and multiple lawsuits that made it impossible for airlines to continue to discriminate against women.

      That aviation enthusiasts physically brought nearly 600,000 women and girls to industry facilities to experience aviation and flight for themselves as part of Women Of Aviation Week during that same period did not hurt either, especially since many of them were old enough (20+) to start training right away. One thing is sure. Scholarships are not the explanation as there has been only around 200 “women scholarships” awarded annually since the 1990s.

      • Mireille,
        Thank you for bringing the FAA student certificate numbers to my attention. I’m familiar with these figures, but I apologize that I didn’t mention the potential for misinterpretation due to how they are presented. The way the FAA includes these numbers can be misleading, and it’s important to consider them in context.

        On a positive note, there has definitely been progress for women in aviation, both professionally and recreationally, as shown by the more accurate FAA statistics. This is encouraging, and aligns with the positive trends for other underrepresented groups in aviation.

        I also wanted to mention that I recently read the article “Why So Few Women Pilots?” published on September 26, 2010. I found it to be very insightful, and it’s interesting to see how much of it remains relevant today.


  16. It’s great that more women can see themselves in the cockpit! I have noticed a real trend in media, from magazines to YouTube, featuring women in the images. I have to think that’s a big contributor to women recognizing, “that could be for me”. And the great thing is that, despite some of the fears expressed in other comments here, it need not involve doing anything to disadvantage men (something that I too would oppose). Men can already picture themselves in the cockpit, and seeing some women there isn’t going to change that.

  17. As an instructor I’m encouraged to see the bump in new student starts, but the challenge becomes how to keep those folks engaged and sticking with the PPL program. There will always be an attrition rate; a good instructor can do a lot to help minimize it.

    • Will, want to see a greater bump? The aviation industry needs more pilots. A new G.I. Bill could help by funding flight training for veterans and others. It’d benefit both the industry and veterans. It’s a win-win. I benefited by the G.I. Bill and out of gratitude, I, as a flight instructor donated my time and money to promote new-starts in aviation. I don’t fly anymore, too old, but I wish I could.