Female pilots are a rarity at commercial airlines in the U.S.

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Female pilots are rare, especially in the U.S.

When a Southwest Airlines LUV, -0.05%   plane’s engine exploded mid-flight this week, pilot Tammie Jo Shults, 56, made an emergency landing. She is a former Navy pilot and one of the first women to fly an F/A-18 fighter jet.

Shults is an anomaly among airline pilots — and not just because she was able to stay calm in such extreme circumstances

As a female pilot, Shults is part of a small group. Just 6.3% of commercial pilots and 6% of non-commercial pilots in the United States are women, according to the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide, a nonprofit based in Vancouver. That’s 6,081 commercial female pilots and 10,247 non-commercial female pilots. (The Air Line Pilots Association, a U.S. trade group., also said female pilots made up roughly 6% of all commercial pilots in the U.S.)

That compares to 12% in Finland and 7.6% in France, according to GenderGapTrader.com, a site that publishes the gender ratio of various industries. The International Society of Women Airline Pilots (IWOAW) estimates that between 3% and 6% of pilots at the world’s largest commercial airlines are women.

That contributes to a gender pay gap at airlines. The median pay for all American pilots in 2017 was $111,930 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compares to a median pay of $50,500 per year for flight attendants, roughly 75% of whom are female. (The Association of Flight Attendants was not immediately available for comment.)

The ratio of male to female pilots in the U.S. may change, however. Some 12.5% of student pilots are women, the IWOAW said.

In the U.S., airline industry groups say that because pilots are unionized, their pay is dictated by their collective bargaining agreement, rather than their gender.

But there is some evidence that female pilots are paid less, at least in the U.K. In the U.K., organizations with 250 employees or more must report on their gender pay gap every year, as of 2017. And this month, many airlines based there reported that their male pilots are paid significantly more than female pilots.

The Irish discount airline Ryanair RYAAY, -0.81%   had the largest pay gap, with men earning 72% more per hour than women, according to The Telegraph. Jet2 had the second-largest gap, with men earning 49.7% more per hour. Overall, male pilots in the U.K. made 9.7% more than women per hour in 2017.