Business aviation operators, flight training providers and aircraft manufacturers were represented among the 165 exhibitors and sponsors participating in the 2017 International Women in Aviation Conference, and with good reason.
“I think there is a general feeling, attributed partially to the new administration in Washington, D.C., that there is about to be an uptick in orders…so aircraft manufacturers here at the conference are hiring workers,” Dr. Peggy Chabrian, president and co-founder of Women in Aviation, International (WAI) told AIN. “Major airlines have been coming to WAI for the past four years and hiring WAI members in significant numbers,” she remarked, “but this year the companies accepting résumés seem to be more diverse.”
WAI is a membership organization created in 1994 as a networking, outreach and educational tool meant to boost diversity in aviation, and the composition of the crowd at this year’s event suggests the mission is succeeding. Some 4,500 of the organization’s 14,000 members journeyed to the Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World early last month. The annual event enables attendees to network with human resource professionals and recruiters who are searching to fill positions from aviation maintenance to assembly line, dispatch and scheduling to flight and cabin crew, and many management positions in between.
The three-day conference began with two days of group hiring briefings and individual interview opportunities with a half a dozen airlines and corporate charter/ fractional operators, before segueing into 50 educational and professional development sessions, networking events, teacher and student outreach activities, AOPA “Rusty Pilot” and “Learn to Fly” seminars and the organization’s traditional scholarship award and Pioneer Hall of Fame induction banquet.
This year, defined “tracks” made it easier for attendees to identify seminars and professional development sessions that aligned with their interests. Before the affair was over WAI awarded 120 scholarships, from cash awards to jet type rating and maintenance training, valued at $640,000. Among the keynote speakers were AOPA president Mark Baker; retired Marines Cobra pilot and author Vernice Armour; Jenette Remos, v-p and general manager of fabrication at Boeing; astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle; FedEx president David Bronczek; and aviation educator Catherine Fish. Conference attendees also had the opportunity to help World War II WASP Dawn Seymour celebrate her 100th birthday and hear her recount her experiences test flying and delivering bombers.
If the mission was to land a job, it was a good year to come to WAI’s conference. Gulfstream Aerospace brought pilots to WAI to both inspire and inform. “We are here because this magnitude of conference attracts top-notch aviation talent, and we are hiring that talent,” said Genitha Singleton, staffing operations manager for Gulfstream in Savannah, Ga. Singleton is currently looking for pilots and technicians to fill the company’s needs into the summer.
“We are also exposed to a lot of students here,” explained Carmen Smoker, recruiting analyst in talent acquisition for the company, located in Savannah, Ga. “Those students are the future,” she went on to say. “It is why the company comes back, to stoke that talent.”
A dozen large corporate flight departments sent representatives to the conference for career development and, according to a few, to network for future growth. Walmart was one of few that actually staffed a booth in the exhibit hall. Dan Williams, that company’s flight department v-p of global travel and aviation, told AIN, “Our women pilots recognized that relationship recruiting and networking is important and first brought us to this show in 2000. We came to this conference because we felt we should, as a good corporate citizen representing the business aviation community. At the time we were filling a vacuum here where corporate aviation should have been,” he explained. “Walmart is generous to us, letting us come here and develop relationships. We bring these pilots into our internship program and eventually hire tremendous talent out of this show.”
New to the conference this year was Amazon.com, which was hiring for locations in Washington (Seattle) and Ohio. “We are filling out our flight department, hiring business analysts, carrier program managers, principal products managers, airframe program and engine managers, quality assurance managers, network operations supervisors and more,” said Kalie Hall, recruiter for the company, which currently leases 40 aircraft from Atlas Air. “We realize WAI is a great networking event for us.”
Pratt & Whitney’s Mary Anne Cannon, v-p for commercial programs in Hartford, Conn., noted, “Most of the women we bring are not in customer-facing positions, so the conference is a place where they can interact with the users of our product.” Cannon also brought HR to the event, recruiting logistics and safety professionals, mechanics and engineers.
Textron’s booth represented Bell Helicopter and TRU Flight Simulations. “We are welcoming 300 interns this summer into the company in sales, engineering and flight operations and we are talking to some of them here at the show,” a spokeswoman told AIN. “It is a great opportunity for us to get in touch with the aviation community as a whole, because of the diversity here,” she continued.
Operators PlaneSense, XOJet, Desert Jet and NetJets, among others, were taking résumés for maintenance, cockpit and cabin crew positions. In the middle of the exhibition hall attendees had the opportunity for one-on-one résumé advice from hiring professionals within the airline and corporate world. Several corporate aircraft operators noted a dearth of interest in corporate cabin crew positions at the show, suggesting that the organization could do a better job getting the word out that opportunities for networking exist at WAI for flight attendants and flight technicians, as well.
Sister organization Women in Corporate Aviation (WCA) celebrated its 25th anniversary at WAI 2017, holding its annual meeting and electing new officers at a luncheon during the conference. Incoming WCA president Cindy Youngblood, a contract corporate jet pilot, was awarded the WCA Career Scholarship, presented by WCA v-p Paige Kroner. The group was well represented on the Corporate Aviation Career educational panel, led by corporate pilot and A&P Ava Shubat.
Also represented on the panel was the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance (AWAM), which celebrated its 20th anniversary during the WAI conference. Both WCA and AWAM provide dozens of scholarships and awards for professional training and continuing education for all aspects of business aviation. WCA will award more scholarships at the NBAA Convention in Las Vegas, Nev., October 10-12 this year.
Aviation Personnel International (API) president and CEO Sheryl Barden offered attendees a bit of sage career advice: “Business aviation is a small unit of any corporation. For those of you interested in not just doing the same thing every day, business aviation is for you. You are constantly upgrading—airplanes, avionics—getting to work with the best technology that goes into aircraft. The training quality is amazing, and the long-term compensation is more competitive than you might believe, as well. If you are a self-starter then you will thrive in corporate aviation’s performance-based culture.”
Her opinion of a good candidate for one of her clients’ positions: “It is tough for the flight department to hire someone who doesn’t have enough hours or the skills for the job yet. They don’t have the depth to develop the pilot. But if someone takes time say, with the regionals, and gets the jet experience, that sets them up well for the position,” she said. The regional airlines she spoke of were Republic, Envoy, Empire, Cape Air, Silver Airways and Ameriflight, beside United, American, Delta, Allegiant, UPS, FedEx, Atlas Air, Kalitta Air, Sun Country and Spirit in the exhibit hall, all of them hiring into entry positions in dispatch, flight, ground ops and maintenance. Flight training providers such as CAE, FlightSafety and AeroSim kept up a brisk conversation with potential CFI applicants until the hall closed.
NBAA’s director of educational development and strategy, Jo Damato, leading a panel discussion on finding mentors in aviation, encouraged attendees to volunteer in the industry. “You can develop skills you might not get elsewhere and you will meet people who could turn into mentors for your career,” she said. “We want you to leave this conference feeling like you have the tools and the know-how to launch on your path.”
WAI announced the re-launch of its formal mentoring program, offering a web-based approach to finding a mentor via the members-only section of the website, as well as at upcoming WAI Connect events and WAI’s WomenVenture day during EAA AirVenture this summer.
“We have a larger number of upper management personnel here this year. Those people are decision makers and I hope they go back to their companies and lobby to bring even more of their employees to WAI next year,” said WAI president Chabrian, promising that if they do they’ll find new business aviation tracks for education and job acquisition at next year’s conference, scheduled March 22-24 at the Reno Convention Center in Reno, Nev.
Recruiting the Next Generation
Three organizations—WAI, Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance and Women in Corporate Aviation—volunteered in the Saturday Girls in Aviation community outreach project, which saw 200 Girl Scouts and a couple of dozen chaperones energetically introduced to a wide swath of aviation. Girls could “fly” flight simulators with help from a real flight instructor, build and remote-pilot mini drones, build and operate floor-roaming “bots” and participate in a raucous paper airplane performance contest.
Airshow performer Patty Wagstaff and astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle were among the speakers educating the youth. The day culminated with a wild scavenger hunt through the exhibit hall, to the delight of those staffing the booths. Parents and chaperones had the chance to learn about aviation career opportunities as well, and be introduced to a dozen university and corporate aviation training programs from around the world.