Spirits high at WAI’s annual networking event

 - March 27, 2009, 9:51 AM

Although the dismal economy cast a pall over this year’s Women in Aviation conference–the association’s 20th–there were plenty of networking opportunities available to attendees. As it has in the past, the conference brought its members–who hail from all sectors of aviation (commercial, corporate, private and military)–together to share their passion for the industry they work and play in.

This year’s event, held at the Hyatt Regency downtown in Atlanta from February 26 to 28, drew 124 exhibitors compared with the 148 that participated last year. Attendance at this year’s conference was down 10 percent from the record high of 3,320 of last year to nearly 3,000 this year.

The theme of this year’s conference was “A New Approach for Your Tomorrow,” but the past was not forgotten, as various speakers pointed out how far the organization has come since its beginning. For example, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony WAI president Peggy Chabrian commented that she thought there were as many people at the ceremony as there were attendees at the first conference at Embry-Riddle University in 1990. That event drew 150.

The exhibit hall provided members many opportunities to network with the companies and organizations that make things happen in the industry. It hosted more than 120 exhibitors ranging from Gulfstream Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, and Delta Air Lines to Elliott Aviation, Women in Corporate Aviation, and various branches of the armed forces.

In spite of the economy, the message from a number of speakers was positive: the layoffs that are so prevalent in the industry will allow companies to stay afloat through the tough times and put them in a better position when the economy rebounds.

Speakers at this year’s event included president of Chevron Global Aviation Doug Hinzie; Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, who stressed how important aviation is to him personally and to the state he governs;  aerobatic champion and airshow performer Patty Wagstaff; Boeing’s v-p of product support for integrated defense systems Jeffrey Deckelbaum; NextGen’s senior vice president in the Air Traffic Organization Victoria Cox; NASA Space Station Commander Peggy Whitson, who shared the experience of her mission in the International Space Station; and AOPA president and CEO Craig Fuller.

Lissa Lines, a representative from EAA Air Venture highlighted WomenVenture, a program started at Oshkosh last year.

At this year’s event in July Women in Aviation, International will partner with WomenVenture in their annual breakfast and participate in a panel of influential women in the industry.

Educational opportunities at the conference ranged from career panels, to infor- mational sessions about aviation-specific topics, and panels about industry pioneers. The WASP (Women Aviation Service Pilots who flew military aircraft during World War II) announced at their panel that this conference would be their last official
duty as an organization. They are stepping aside to allow other women in aviation to become the role models for the up-and-coming members of the industry.

There were many first time attendees; some were scholarship winners and others were there learning about job opportunities that might be available for them. “The one thing that made a lasting impression on me as a first-time attendee was that it did not matter who you are and what you do. Everyone was interested to learn and hear your story,” said corporate pilot Lisa Lewis.

Throughout the event various sponsors presented scholarships–in the form of cash awards or aircraft type ratings–to help WAI members reach their aviation goals. The total value of scholarships awarded at this year’s event was $495,450. The scholarship total reached nearly $700,000 at the 2008 conference.

The 21st annual Women in Aviation, International Conference will be held in Orlando, Fla., on February 25-27, 2010.