There are nearly 160,000 pilots in America. Fewer than 7,000 are women

World’s safest airlines for 2019
Aaron Cooper/CNN

Tammie Jo Shults, who guided Southwest Flight 1380 into Philadelphia after losing an engine over southeast Pennsylvania this week, is a rare breed.

Not only is she one of the nation’s first female Navy fighter pilots, but as a pilot for a US airline, she is one of fewer than 7,000 women in her profession.

Here’s a look at the state of female pilots at US airlines:

It’s a man’s world

Of the 159,825 pilots flying for airlines last year, only 6,994 were women, about 4.37%. Both the number and percentage have been on a slow ascent since 2008.

United is a leader in putting women in the cockpit

At three of the top four airlines in the US, fewer than one in 20 pilots is a woman. United, on the other hand, has 934 women flying. That’s more than 7% of its pilot staff. Of those, 285 are captains.

Commercial flight in general is a boy’s club

The number of women flying in other commercial capacities is also low — 6,267 of 98,161 last year — and that number is down since 2008, perhaps as part of a general decline in commercial pilots during that time frame. Still, the percentage has basically been static for the past decade.

More women are learning to fly

More than 19,000 women are learning to fly. While only a small fraction of these women will go on to fly for airlines, the number of female students has more than doubled in the past decade.

Huge strides since the early days

According to “The American Aviation Experience: A History,” Central Airlines became the first American airline to hire a female pilot — Helen Richey, who specialized in racing and aerobatics — in 1934. She quit because she couldn’t break through in the male-dominated profession.

It would be almost four decades before Frontier Airlines became the second carrier to hire a woman, Emily Howell Warner, who would go on to be the first captain for an American airline.

Between 1960 and 2010, the number of airline transport certifications granted to women have increased more than 220-fold.