Diversity and inclusion: we are a dynamic, global sector but we need to start telling the story better

Rannia Leontaridi Obe

Dr Rannia Leontaridi OBE, Director General for Aviation, Maritime and Security Group at the Department for Transport in the United Kingdom, the UK’s Director General for Civil Aviation, Vice-President of the EUROCONTROL Provisional Council and a passionate champion for diversity and inclusion.

Does aviation have a challenge in improving inclusion and diversity?

Yes. It is a topic that has been openly discussed more and more over the last few years and months, especially as other sectors, which have had equally large problems in terms of diversity and inclusion – such as the technology sector, for example – are getting better at it. There are two issues here. One is the need to make our sector appealing to young people and to explain the amazing opportunities and roles that it holds; and second, the commitment, which all of us – including policy makers, private sector and investment colleagues – will have to make to prioritise and then tackle the issue. And I think that’s been quite difficult.

Aviation is a business of people. My vision is of an aviation sector that is above all people-centric and puts customers at the heart of it. We need to understand that those who are employed in the sector represent both passengers and customers.

Given the issues of getting young people, especially young women, involved in the industry, how do we change the dynamic to make it easier, more inclusive and more attractive?

It is not rocket science, but it is more easily said than done. Earlier this month I was in Madrid to participate in the Global Aviation Gender Summit organised by ICAO and hosted by the Spanish Government. We discussed exactly that question. There are three main areas that we need to think about improving.

First, we need to raise ambitions, whether that is advertising for jobs, training people or speaking to colleagues internally about the reforms we need to make.

Second, we need to collaborate, across all parts of the aviation sector, from society, family initiatives, schools and government – bringing all of our initiatives on this issue together. In the UK we took the lead to set up a Global Skills Taskforce, a collaboration between the UK, IATA, ICCAIA, ACI and ICAO to ensure that we can gather the knowledge and expertise we have across the sector so we become bigger than just the sum of our parts. We have invited other nations to join us.

And third, we have to ensure that the sector is practical in everything it does. There are some fundamental things that we need to do across the whole economy, not just aviation, such as improving the way we interview people, promote STEM work, focusing on diversity and the language we use in our adverts, and importantly, identifying role models.

Somebody asked me: “Do you think we should stop putting all these role models out there because the risk may be that all of that attention on role models is potentially putting on too much pressure and scaring girls?” I said: “No – but we should be clear about how those role models got there, the failures that they faced along the way and the resilience they showed and the people who helped them.”

There are many positive role models in aviation, but they tend to be in the more dynamic areas such as piloting an aircraft. how do we attract new entrants to the safety-focused areas such as air traffic management and maintenance?

In the UK around six per cent of flight crew are women and globally the figure is five per cent. Whenever anybody thinks about the aviation sector all they hear about is pilots. So it is important to showcase what others do. We need to explain all the things that have to happen before an aircraft takes off, but we don’t have people who are currently focusing on doing that storytelling. I think that storytelling is as important as everything else. We’re not the only sector that employs engineers and safety managers, but I think we’re the only sector where much of what we do focuses so much on the more visible and well-known roles and forgetting the various parts of the industry that put an aircraft safely into the sky. So “yes” to role modelling and “yes” to storytelling.

In the UK we have launched our Reach for the Sky Challenge Fund to help get young people from all backgrounds into aviation. Aviation Champions from many parts of the sector have the opportunity to promote and explain what they’re doing, reaching out to schools to explaining to pupils the different careers and charities that operate at various levels in different communities. So we are beginning to do some of that storytelling one-to-one with pupils. It is a significant step but a drop in the ocean, but can you imagine the power of a programme like that if it were rolled out across Europe? Across the globe?

Aviation used to be a glamorous industry but has dropped down the popularity stakes, especially with its record as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. how can we improve the industry’s overall image for younger people?

I disagree. I think aviation is still a dynamic, interesting, global sector but we need to start telling the story of aviation as a sector better. I believe that we must put people and the environment at the heart of all the work we do. The environmental ambitions of many airlines and airports are enormous and there is plenty of excitement around new technologies such as hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuels or flight management transformation and modernisation of our airspace.

I think the image of the sector maybe took a turn for the worse during the pandemic. It is right to focus on the shortcomings of what we did following the pandemic, on how customers felt let down as the delays mounted. Some of these issues are in the sector’s hands to solve: the ability to pay people better, to make better policy, for example. But other issues, like bad weather, remain as serious external factors to destabilise performance. So we must manage the consequences well, focusing on passengers and creating an image that attracts diverse talent to the sector.

In terms of managing the image we have to get better at storytelling. Later this year, a Virgin Atlantic aircraft will fly across the Atlantic from the UK powered by 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). That is an incredible achievement, especially when we consider how many scientists, engineers and what kind of safety jobs will have been needed to put that aircraft in the sky to make sure it reaches the other end safely. The aviation sector must promote the work that it does and explain the sector’s environmental credentials, the new technology ambition, the commitment to environmentally responsible aviation. It is important for the aviation industry to demonstrate how it is embedding new technologies such as artificial intelligence and autonomy into the industry, exactly the kinds of things that kids are looking for nowadays.

EUROCONTROL has an incredible reach. We must be able to stimulate the minds of children who are interested in STEM subjects to look at careers in airspace modernisation programmes or managing safety.

And atm now spans from the ground up, all the way to space.


Autonomy is going to be big. If you look at what’s happening across many airports in introducing autonomous airspace management, this is a new global phenomenon; managing the skies, which of course will be shared by drones, autonomous air vehicles, new aircraft technologies and space launches.

How do you get your story heard when most of the aviation and atm headlines seem to focus on strikes and industrial unrest?

As with everything nowadays I think that social media can help reach new audiences and young people who are considering their careers. The sector uses social media quite a lot to advertise or to let passengers know if there’s a flight delay, for example. But we have a huge number of incredibly young social media-educated people who are interacting through means that maybe policy makers or the sector don’t reach into very much.

Reaching out to young people with a positive image of the sector, a series of interesting job opportunities and getting them in turn to tell a positive aviation story in their way, is key. And we see across many other sectors how communication should work, to share information and experiences. So we first need to get our foot in the door through the available media and start attracting apprentices and new diverse recruits and then encourage them to share their experiences working in the sector and hopefully build a positive image of a diverse and interesting sector.

Maybe we can then dream of breaking the cycle.

"I think EUROCONTROL is sitting in that space where it can rise above and connect governments, to do some of the story-telling about the vast opportunities in the sector and promote a modern image for aviation, full of diverse career opportunities"

Atm is incredibly complex on all levels – technically, institutionally, operationally. also, not all aviation stakeholders are always kind to air navigation service providers. is there anything the industry could do to present a more harmonised message?

During the pandemic, when things were really hard, all sides of the sector came together to find solutions that allowed passengers to travel safely. EUROCONTROL as a major ATM organisation played a significant role in Europe corralling and aligning all parts of the sector, providing data and information on the state of the sector. I think we need to learn from the pandemic times. Collaboration between States is key and a large part of how airspace is managed. EUROCONTROL can play a major role in uniting the sector’s message.

But atm is still primarily a national government-run industry in many parts of europe, and governments are not always the most proactive of institutions.

EUROCONTROL is more than the sum of its parts. It represents 41 countries, with a strong voice of its own. It is incredibly well respected – both in terms of its core mission as well as the role it plays in managing the European airspace network, but also in having a voice in decarbonising aviation, providing data, driving innovation and supporting a diverse aviation agenda. This strong voice, expertise and perspective provides an advantage in vocally supporting diversity in the aviation sector as a whole.

I think EUROCONTROL is sitting in that space where it can rise above and connect governments, to do some of the story-telling about the vast opportunities in the sector and promote a modern image for aviation, full of diverse career opportunities. I think the new Director General has a huge opportunity to change the narrative on diversity and contribute significantly to an issue that can infuse the sector with new talent and empower its future.

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