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Is minimum height for pilots unfair to women?

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A Lufthansa pilot training on a simulator. Photo: DPA
14:28 CET+01:00
Is 162 centimetres metres (five feet three inches) too short for an aircraft pilot? Lufthansa regulations say that their crew must be at least 165 centimetres tall – but one applicant has now dragged them to Germany's highest labour court for discrimination.

The young woman got through the first few rounds of the extremely tough application process for a coveted pilot position at Europe's biggest airline.

Candidates must speak fluent English and German, be physically fit and mentally dependable.

No standard minimum height

And – one more thing – pilots must be between 165 and 198 centimetres tall.

"That's to ensure that a pilot is able to use all the control elements in the cockpit in any situation without difficulty," Lufthansa spokesman Helmut Tolksdorf said.

But Lufthansa is stricter than many other airlines – even some of its own subsidiaries.

At Swiss - a Lufthansa subsidiary - the rules set a minimum height of 160 centimetres. Air Berlin has no minimum height, and a spokeswoman said that adjustable cockpit seats mean that pilots' size isn't an issue.

Even the Luftwaffe (German air force) sets a minimum height for pilots of just 155 centimetres (five feet).

Lengthy legal battle

Judges at the state labour court in Cologne agreed with the young plaintiff in a 2014 ruling, saying that she had been disadvantaged because of her sex.

With 44 percent of German women over 20 years old measuring up at less than 165 centimetres – compared with three percent of men – the Lufthansa rule was unfair to women, they said.

But they did not grant the applicant any damages in compensation.

Now she has brought her case to the federal labour court in Erfurt, Thuringia, where she claims €15,000 in damages and €120,000 in compensation for her truncated career opportunities.

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The judges will have a tricky case to consider, as it is legal under German law for some professions to discriminate.

Navy sailors and police officers have to meet certain height requirements too – although these vary between different federal states, and some states have different minimums for men and women.

But a decision in the wannabe pilot's favour could see those restrictions tumble as well, legal experts say.

SEE ALSO: Woman ejected from cafe for breastfeeding fights back

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