The 24th annual International Women in Aviation Conference, held March 14 to 16 in Nashville, Tenn., proved its worth last month as a mentoring, networking and outreach event, as attendees packed the show floor to take advantage of the diverse aviation and aerospace job fair.
For the first time ever, there were at least as many men in the exhibit hall as women, many of them dressed for interviews sporting résumés in thick binders or briefcases. The organization had never had so many on-site registrations, according to Women in Aviation International president Dr. Peggy Chabrian, and the bulk of them were looking for jobs with WAI exhibitors that included United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, ExpressJet, American Eagle, Republic, Skywest, US Airways, JetBlue Airways, Virgin America, UPS, FedEx Express and several corporate operators, as well as flight-training institutions and manufacturers of corporate aircraft.
Lines for entry into the exhibit hall began forming two hours before its opening. Inside, women such as Betsy Donovan of XOJet, Andrea Rinebold of US Airways, Lorrie Leblanc of American Airlines and dozens of others were waiting. American Airlines Boeing 737 first officer Jenny Beatty, who was at the show supporting her airline’s exhibit, told AIN that early on she heard murmurs of consternation among some of the longtime attendees of the show.
“The large influx of male pilot applicants caught us all by surprise. Back in the 1980s and ’90s when I was making my way as a professional pilot, more than a few men made it clear they were unhappy with women infringing on their turf. Now the tables have turned,” she said. “But I am not alone in believing that there is room for all of us at the table, and that any smart and ambitious pilot candidate will use all available resources to land a dream job.”
Along those lines, Beatty told AIN that she spoke with the men who came to the WAI Conference specifically looking to interview for a job. Adam Lake, a SkyWest CRJ pilot who was first in line at the exhibit hall entrance on Saturday morning, said that he’d not just heard about the WAI Conference but that a recruiter at another job fair told him at least six times in 20 minutes that he needed to come to WAI. Beatty also talked to Devin Hussy, an ERJ-145 pilot for ExpressJet, who told her that everyone he flew with told him that WAI was the place to be for pilot hiring.
And as for the interviewers? “I must say the interested parties here at WAI have been above and beyond all expectations, a phenomenal group of individuals. On the cusp of a combined new airline, we feel so proud to have the opportunity to welcome such a qualified group of pilot applicants to potentially lead our enterprise in the decades to come,” said United first officer Dianna Klein, Houston-based acting flight manager.
Timing is everything, noted Mitch Grant, manager for inclusion and diversity for US Airways. Many airlines are looking for new pilots to address demand brought on by the implementation of the Age 65 rule and the 14 CFR Part 117 fatigue rules.
Social media may have helped WAI and the airlines generate such a large and diverse crowd at the job fair, according to Klein. “We expected a great response, but were surprised by the volume. It says a lot about WAI that men and women are welcome to pursue aviation careers here.” The situation in the exhibit hall on day two of the conference was such that lines of job applicants were cordoned off to allow other conference attendees free access to the hall. A random survey of applicants in line, both men and women, showed an equal mix of furloughed and soon-to-be furloughed corporate and regional-airline pilots, current airline professionals looking for a career change, flight instructors, maintenance professionals, dispatchers and students on their way up. The crowd left many attendees at the conference asking, “What pilot shortage? What mechanic shortage?”
Why was this conference and job fair so attractive to applicants? Companies were doing more than just collecting résumés; they were also conducting on-site evaluations of particularly well qualified candidates in private conference rooms outside the exhibit hall.
Beyond the job fair in the exhibit hall, WAI presented more than 50 educational sessions, workshops and seminars, two general sessions with speakers as diverse as Caroline Daniels of ATP and Sheryl Barden of API Aviation, Neil Planzer of Boeing, USAF Col. Jill Long and seven Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (Wasp) who were some of the first women in the U.S. to fly military aircraft during World War II. The WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame inducted 18 new members, including the first female Marine fighter pilot, Lt. Col. Karen Brannen; aviation journalist Mary Silitch; and the founding board of WAI.
WAI’s community outreach included a free IA recurrency course, an aerospace education workshop offering local elementary and secondary teachers continuing education credits and a youth outreach “Bring Your Daughter to the Conference Day” with participants from attendees’ families as well as local Nashville Girl Scouts. Activities at Daughter Day included learning to read a sectional chart, flying a flight simulator, arts and crafts projects, a luncheon and a tour of the exhibit Hall. The UPS Foundation provided funding for Daughter Day, while The Sporty’s Foundation donated training materials, including sectional charts, logbooks and cockpit posters.
Sequestration was the only damper on the conference, it seems. Luncheon speaker Deborah Hersman, chair of the NTSB, had to appear via video because of a lack of travel funds. “Of course, we missed many of our military and FAA colleagues, so, yes, sequestration affected our conference,” said Chabrian. “But, as always there’s no more upbeat and enthusiastic group than our attendees.”
This year’s event hosted nearly 3,400 attendees, a record according to Chabrian. Eighty aviation and engineering scholarships with a value totaling just under $500,000 were awarded to young people. In addition to WAI scholarships, sister organizations Women in Corporate Aviation, the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance and the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA +21) awarded more than $150,000 combined in scholarships to their members who were participating in the conference.
The 25th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference will be held at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Fla., from March 6 to 8 next year. “We have big plans,” said Chabrian. Those plans include provisions for an enhanced job fair to accommodate what WAI hopes to be a growing trend in hiring within aviation and aerospace. For more information, visit www.wai.org.