13th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference

 - May 15, 2008, 7:54 AM

“The changing dynamics of aviation have brought a lot of people to corporate aviation,” said corporate pilot Darcy Eggeman at last month’s Women in Aviation Conference. “The passengers want to know who’s flying the aircraft, who their flight attendants are and who their mechanics are. The best way to do that is to have their own aircraft. Companies that were going to cut back their flight department operations before September 11 are rethinking that strategy.” Eggeman, a senior pilot for Universal Studios, has been flying for 21 years.

Challenges facing all facets of aviation in a post-September 11 environment dominated most discussions during the 13th annual International Women in Aviation Conference, held March 13 to 15 in Nashville, Tenn. Nearly 3,000 women and men representing 10 countries attended the annual membership gathering of the Women in Aviation International (WAI), at which a new organization logo, incorporating the group’s name, a globe and an aircraft, was unveiled during the opening session.

Dr. Peggy Chabrian, WAI president and founder, noted that the conference’s theme, “Keys to the Changing Dynamics of Aviation,” had been chosen last summer but seemed all the more fitting after September 11. After introductions of WAI board members and special guests, including two female pilots from Russia, the conference began with a panel discussion from representatives of airlines, corporate aviation, general aviation and the military.

Bizav Well Represented

Stepping in for NBAA president Jack Olcott, who had been scheduled to participate in the Thursday-morning panel discussion, NBAA senior vice president of operations Bob Blouin painted an encouraging picture for the corporate aviation industry. He described the explosive growth of corporate aviation in the past six months: charter use up 25 percent; fractional use up, especially in entry-level jets; and an overall increase in business aviation activity of 3.5 percent. According to Blouin, three-quarters of NBAA corporate members are currently flying either the same number of hours or slightly more hours than they were before September 11.

“We need to be accepting, tracking, understanding and capitalizing on change,” Blouin told the large crowd of mostly female aviators. “We are in an era of profound change, as momentous as anything that has happened in the last 200 years.”

But even though corporate aviation is seeing a growth spurt, Blouin said there are major challenges facing the industry, including continued access to airports and airspace, an increased emphasis on security and a decreasing personnel infrastructure.

“Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta recently said Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport service would be back up to 100 percent, but the question still remains if that includes access by business aircraft,” Blouin said. “Currently there are still restrictions on foreign Part 91 aircraft flying into the U.S. and U.S.-registered Part 91 aircraft flying out of the country. We are also still seeing pockets of resistance to corporate access, such as at the New York City heliports. Some of our members are using the heliports under a special exemption, but that exemption can be taken away at any time. We are working on security letters of authorization that will enable broad access to airports and airspace for Part 91 and 135 operators.”

Blouin informed the WAI attendees that NBAA representatives have already met with undersecretary John Magaw of the newly formed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to discuss security measures for business aviation operators. “One of the points we are trying to get across is that the security culture in corporate aviation is decades old,” he said. “Corporate operators maintain an industrial security with fundamental practices that businesses have been using for years. What goes on in the back of the corporate aircraft–the business that they’re conducting back there–must be secure. Executives would not be doing company business on an airline flight.”

Women in Bizav Speak Out

Most of the panel discussion centered around the women’s experiences in obtaining and keeping corporate pilot positions, and encouraging younger women and students to consider corporate aviation as an alternative to airline careers. According to Eggeman, many corporate flight departments are now training pilots with less than 1,000 hr TT in the right seat, whereas 3,500 hr used to be the standard minimum for a new-hire corporate pilot. She did caution that large-jet operators generally expect a minimum experience of 2,000 to 3,000 flight hours.

Noting the differences between a unionized airline and the individualism of a corporate flight department, Karen Proctor, a Challenger 600 and Hawker 800 pilot for a pharmaceutical company in Dallas, said corporate aviation can provide many more opportunities for personal growth.

“I’m 28 and I feel I might not have to write a resume anymore,” said Proctor, who has held a number of flying jobs, including stints as a regional pilot flying King Airs and Beech 99s, charter pilot flying a Cessna 310, corporate aviation consultant flying a Cessna 421 and DC-9 pilot for Legend Airlines. “Corporate aviation is not always secure, but there are greater opportunities to participate in management than in the airlines. The assets are getting bigger, with the Challengers, GIVs and other larger aircraft. As the assets get more expensive, there is a greater need for management–scheduling, dispatch–and the need for a more controlled environment.”

Proctor warned that applying for corporate aviation positions requires a different attitude from applying with the airlines. “In corporate aviation you need more dedication to customer service,” she said. “Teamwork is a big component of working in a corporate environment. It’s a slightly different attitude from the unionized environment of the airlines.”

The panelists were split on the question of whether or not being female made it easier to obtain and keep corporate pilot positions. Laura Benson-Putney, who currently flies a Challenger 601 for Louisville, Ky.-based Kentucky Fried Chicken, said she had been turned down several times to fly right seat in a Learjet, even though she was available and had a Learjet sign-off, allegedly because the wives of the pilots didn’t like the idea of a woman pilot accompanying the male captains. Learjet pilot Terilyn Gober-Hughes said it seemed jobs have been easier to obtain because she is female, but that it was harder to achieve the same level of respect as her male counterparts.

Other educational sessions ranged in topic from esoteric advice for working women to technical issues on aviation-supply management. The law office of Jackson & Wade of Overland Park, Kan., presented sessions on changes to FAR Parts 91 and 135 as related to fractional ownership; corporate flying within the FARs; detailing the definition of demonstration flights; showing how easy it could be to be cornered into falsifying FAA documents; and describing pilots’ rights and the recommended procedure when presented with a letter of investigation from the FAA.

As could be expected, FAA Great Lakes Region administrator Cecilia Hunziker focused on security, but she also unveiled new plans for the administration during her general session speech. One of her themes was the cooperation of all of the “alphabet soup” aviation organizations in presenting and implementing solutions to various problems stemming from the aftermath of September 11, and the need to educate the general public on normal aviation procedures.

“There are some public perceptions as to what is safe in aviation,” Hunziker said. “For example, downtown Chicago is the only place in my region that still carries a TFR. We received so many calls from panicked residents of the downtown high rises, who were seeing aircraft flying relatively close to the city buildings but did not understand that the aircraft were flying in standard VFR routes, that we worked with NBAA, EAA, AOPA and other organizations, which all agreed to the TFR. Now we are all working with the city of Chicago on a marketing campaign to educate the residents about where aircraft can fly.”

Hunziker, a member of the WAI board of directors, encouraged all pilots and others in aviation to get involved at their local airports and to help restore public confidence in aviation. She noted that people who have never been involved with aviation before are now deciding issues and making policy decisions, even at levels as high as the White House.

Immediately after September 11, the FAA and other government officials identified two critical initiatives: strengthening transportation security and establishing the TSA. In accordance with the first of these initiatives, the FAA recently issued new guidelines for training crewmembers on in-flight threats, shifting the strategy from passive to active resistance. “Our role in aviation security does not end with the TSA taking over the security function,” Hunziker said. “Many security responsibilities remain with the FAA, including flight- crew training.”

She said the FAA is undergoing “significant changes,” not only from the development of the new TSA and the FAA’s changing role in aviation security, but also from the creation of a new air traffic organization (ATO), a performance-based organization for the ATC segment of the FAA. “The ATO will run more like a business,” Hunziker explained. “[FAA Administrator] Jane Garvey is currently recruiting a chief operating officer for the ATO. One of the issues being worked on in developing the ATO is how to measure success. We’re not sure exactly what will define success for such an organization.”

Hunziker noted that the main challenge for the DOT will be to “follow through on aviation modernization initiatives in a post-September 11 environment.” She encouraged everyone to access and read the department’s Operational Evolution Plan (OEP) (available online at www.faa.gov/programs/oep/) as the “blueprint of where aviation is going.” According to the Great Lakes Region administrator, three main goals of the OEP are to increase capacity, manage delays and maintain the current safety record. The OEP is based on a 30-percent increase in commercial operations by 2010, and includes the construction of 13 new runways, one of which is the recently opened sixth runway (4L-22R) at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.     

The conference ended with its dress-formal banquet, featuring Cessna Aircraft chairman and CEO Gary Hay as the main speaker and the induction of four women into the WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame. Inductees included the first woman airline pilot in Italy, Fiorenza de Bernardi; airline pilot and 22-year airshow performer Julie Clark; former WASP and current fixed- and rotor-wing pilot Doris Lockness; and the first female test pilot, Blanche Stuart Scott.