Safety was the primary topic of discussion at the 21st annual Women in Aviation International (WAI) Conference, held at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Fla., from February 25 to 27. The three-day conference brings together members from all over the world to share ideas and to network. It announces the winners of scholarships provided by the organization and its sponsors, provides educational sessions to share knowledge about specific areas and issues of the industry, allows exhibitors to raise awareness of their organizations or businesses, and attracts distinguished industry leaders.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Aviation–It’s A Small World.” There were 120 international members–double the number at last year’s event–representing 20 countries. Dr. Peggy Chabrian, WAI founder and president, said, “The increased participation of individuals from all over the world added to the impact of this conference. The diversity of the participants, career paths and interests is what makes this conference so special.”
Scholarships totaling $678,300 were awarded, a healthy jump from last year’s $459,450, and the silent auction raised $18,315 for WAI’s endowment, which funds scholarships and educational programs. Nearly 3,000 members attended this year, a similar number to last year, with 10 percent being from the military.
Beating the Safety Drum
Many distinguished leaders and industry trailblazers were in attendance. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt emphasized the importance of making safety a top priority. He urged the association’s members to identify unsafe trends before they become major issues. “Everyone in the business needs to step up and make safety a front-and-center focus, and I can’t think of a better place to do it than here. This is the most marvelous mentoring center I think I’ve ever seen, so this is a great place for us to take this message and send it,” he said at the general session.
After he addressed the members, Babbitt and Chabrian renewed their memo of understanding to support each other’s efforts in the aviation industry. The FAA provides education and employment resources, while WAI promotes the FAA’s messages of safety and regulation enforcement.
A panel devoted to general aviation issues discussed the importance of talking positively about flying and encouraging people in their pursuits of flight training The panel included Ed Bolen, president of NBAA; Paula Derks, president of AEA; Karen Gebhart, president of AOPA Foundations; and Elissa Lines, EAA’s v-p of development. They reported that 70 percent of the people who start to take flying lessons drop out, primarily due to lack of time and money. They suggested that WAI members lobby their public officials about the importance of general aviation. In addition, they underscored how important it is for the aviation community to put safety first and work together to address the major issues facing the industry.
NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman talked about the rewards of public service. She also discussed the importance of safety, citing two of the latest events that have been attributed to a lack of professionalism in the cockpit, the Northwest Airlines overflight of MSP and the Colgan Air crash in Buffalo, N.Y.
Education sessions covered a variety of topics, and the downturn in the economy had a prominent role, with sessions that included “Dealing with Downsizing,” “Your Financial Flight Plan” and “Three Steps To Building a Profitable Aviation Business.” The most popular sessions were led by Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), whose two educational sessions were standing room only.
Comparable to last year’s numbers, the exhibit hall hosted 125 companies and organizations representing all aspects of the aviation industry. Many attendees singled out this networking opportunity to meet people and to check out potential job openings as what drew them to the conference.
Many of the members talked about the positive feeling in the air and the inspiration given by the diverse makeup of aviation professionals in attendance not only to the first-time attendees, but also to members looking to revitalize themselves and their careers. The mentoring spirit of this group is not only what draws members to it but also what keeps them coming back.
The 22nd annual Women in Aviation International Conference is to be held at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nev., from February 24 to 26, 2011.
Pioneer Hall of Fame Inductees
The WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame recognizes women who have made significant contributions to aviation. They were inducted during this year’s WAI Conference Awards Banquet. This year’s inductees were:
• Trish Beckman, first woman to qualify as a crew member in the F-15E program and the first American woman to qualify as a crew member in the F/A-18D;
• Vice Admiral Vivien Crea, most senior ranking woman in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard;
• Suzanna Darcy-Hennemann, first woman to captain a 747-400 and 777, and the first woman pilot employed by Boeing for both production and experimental flight test;
• Alice du Pont Mills, taught instrument flying to Navy airmen and women ferry pilots during World War II; and