The Air Force has removed its minimum height requirement for prospective pilots in a move that it said would encourage a more diverse pool of applicants, particularly women.
Previously, the Air Force had required officer applicants who wished to fly to be between 5-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, with a sitting height of 34 to 40 inches.
Under the adjusted policy, which went into effect on May 13, applicants who are shorter than 5-foot-4 or taller than 6-foot-5 will no longer be required to submit a waiver.
Although most height waivers were approved, the restriction effectively eliminated about 44% of the U.S. female population between the ages of 20 and 29, the Air Force said.
“We’re really focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to serve in the Air Force,” Gwendolyn DeFilippi, an assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services for the Air Force, said in a statement. “This is a huge win, especially for women and minorities of smaller stature who previously may have assumed they weren’t qualified to join our team.”
With the removal of the blanket height standard, the Air Force said it would use an anthropometric screening process to place applicants in planes they can safely fly.
The policy will allow the Air Force “to accommodate a larger and more diverse rated applicant pool within existing aircraft constraints,” said Lt. Col. Jessica Ruttenber, the Air Force mobility planner and programmer who led the effort to adjust the height standards.
Historically, she added, aircraft were engineered around the height of the average man.
The average height of an American woman over age 20 is 63.6 inches, or a little over 5-foot-3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average height of a man over age 20 is 69 inches, or 5-foot-9.
“While most height waivers were approved under the old system, feedback indicated the entire waiver process served as a barrier, which negatively impacted female rated accessions,” said Lt. Col. Christianne Opresko, an aerospace physiologist and the branch chief of the Air Force’s Air Crew Task Force.
“It’s hard to determine how many women did not previously apply due to their perception of not being fully qualified or having to pursue a waiver,” she said.