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A Woman Pilot’s Perspective On The NOTAM Change

Why the FAA’s move to be more inclusive is already backfiring.

Opening Facebook a few days ago, I saw a post in an aviation group. It was a picture many of you have probably seen—one detailing the fact that as of December 2, 2021, NOTAM no longer stood for “Notices To Airmen.” Rather, it now stands for “Notice To Air Missions” in an effort to be more inclusive. Like many of you, I thought, “No, that can’t be real.” But it was.

When I saw the post, from a mere 12 hours before, it already had over 500 comments. Mostly men bashing the change, berating women pilots for being so sensitive. Of course, there were several comments that were positive, applauding the FAA for taking steps to be more inclusive and recognizing the fact that there are women pilots.

I, personally, am concerned about this change. I must admit, I have never had a problem being described as an “Airman.” In fact, I rather like the term. I grew up around aviation and have flown professionally for the last six years. To me, the term “airman” and the fact that I hold it says to me that I have proven myself to be as capable as any male pilot. They didn’t change the standards for me; I earned my ratings taking the same difficult exam as any man did. Sure, like any other woman in the industry, I have had to face sexism. Yet it was rare for me, and any time it came up, I was always able to say, “Hey, I passed the same check rides you did. I’m also an airman.” So, there’s that.

The change in and of itself really isn’t the problem, though. I mean, if we’re being honest, it’s one word. The changing of a word to simply be more inclusive really shouldn’t matter, but to many, it does. This creates repercussions that no one at the FAA has evidently thought about. This change, alongside other changes to be more gender-neutral, is unfortunately making it more difficult for women in aviation.

When I went through initial training approximately three and a half years ago at my airline, there were two women in the class, myself and another. The rest of the class were all men. But our gender didn’t matter. We were treated the same as the other pilots in the room. Sure, the male instructor got a little red in the face when he had to talk about pregnant pilots, something he could have skipped over if there were only men in the room, but that was it.


But now, at my last training event, there was a divide. This was pre-NOTAM change, but other steps had already been taken to be more inclusive, such as changing cockpit to flight deck, etc. Some of the material had not been changed—pilots are still referred to as “he” in all training materials and our manuals. Honestly, I do roll my eyes at that a little, since the airline I work for has comparatively a rather large number of female pilots. It shouldn’t be a challenge to just say “they.”

This was now a conversation piece. Whenever a manual said “he” or an outdated training presentation said “cockpit” or the term “airman” came up, suddenly, the instructor would stop and make it “appropriate,” since there were two women in the room. This didn’t make me feel better. I hadn’t cared. Yet now, where we would have just glossed over the terminology, we stopped. It created a divide.

Suddenly, I was somewhat on the outside. The men in the room didn’t care to be more gender neutral, so the instructor’s attempts at inclusivity felt more like mocking. I had gone from being treated as an equal to being brushed off as “overly sensitive.” Or at least, that’s how it felt to me.


And I had never cared about the changes to begin with! It hadn’t bothered me during my initial training, and it didn’t bother me at this most recent training event. But stopping to make a point about being inclusive just for my benefit, and with a negative undertone, yes, that did bother me.

Now, with the change to NOTAM, I just get to face being on the outside even more. In a place where women had been equals, now, we aren’t. The gender-neutral territory isn’t helping us. It’s hurting us. It’s turning it into “us” versus “them.” And it’s frustrating. Women have been trying to be treated as equals in this industry since the day airplanes first flew, and we were almost there. Now it feels like it’s getting taken away from us, in the name of being “inclusive.”

Check out the results of our Inclusive Language in Aviation Survey!


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