When Kathi Durst graduated high school in 1977, it was not legal for women to fly planes in the U.S. Air Force. By 1981, she would become a member of the second graduating class of women in the U.S. Air Force
Now, she's one of only a few hundred female captains in the world.
“In my generation for sure, parents didn’t see their daughters becoming pilots,” Durst, who is now a Captain with American Airlines, told Travel + Leisure, adding that she felt lucky for having had a mother and father who told her that anything was possible.
Now she tries to project that same message to other young women and girls at a crucial moment in the industry’s history.
With the rise of low-fare carriers and the ability of more people worldwide to travel, airlines will need more pilots than ever before. With air traffic set to increase steadily in the coming years, the industry will need an additional 250,000 pilots in the next decade, according to the CAE Oxford Aviation Academy.
And the increased demand for pilots and engineers has not correlated to an increased supply. Women in particular continue to see low numbers in the profession, according to new research released by the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Around 3 percent of pilots worldwide are women, meaning that of the 130,000 pilots internationally, 4,000 are women. Only 450 are captains, according to the same research.
Durst was the first female chief pilot to fly out of Dallas-Fort Worth in American’s history, and she has served as a role model for many other women who may have never thought becoming a pilot was possible. She makes a point of saying goodbye to passengers at the end of a flight, making sure she is visible to girls in particular.
“I’m particularly looking for young girls, and children really, so they can see...women in those roles. And I make a point of doing that.”
While Durst noted some of the obstacles that women can face in the field, such as implicit bias and a lack of control over their personal lives, she said she was confident in the ability of women to succeed in achieving their goals.
“We will eventually move to the point where young girls can dream of anything,” she said.