EBACE Convention News

EPAN Brings Pride to EBACE

 - May 24, 2023, 6:15 PM
Celebrating its first exhibit at EBACE, the European Pride in Aviation Network welcomed visitors to its colorful booth (J87) where diversity among aviators is celebrated and honored. (Photo: Alena Korenkov)

The European Pride in Aviation Network (EPAN; Booth J87) has officially launched and is now accepting new members. EPAN, which is exhibiting at EBACE 2023 this week, aims to promote diversity and inclusion in the aviation industry while providing resources and support for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies.

EPAN co-founder and v-p Daniel Rüdel, who is also a pilot for a German regional airline, told AIN that he and his colleagues created the nonprofit organization as a spinoff and partner of the National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA), which is based in the U.S. With thousands of members, NGPA is the largest organization of its kind, but the founders of EPAN wanted to expand its reach to make a bigger impact worldwide.

“We didn't want to be called ‘National Gay Pilots’ anymore, because, first of all, we weren't national anymore,” Rüdel said. “Second of all, we are not only gays. We also want to represent all the other queer people” who fall under the wider LGBTQIA+ umbrella, which includes lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and asexual people. Allies of the community are also welcome to join. 

EPAN also isn’t specifically for pilots. “We wanted to include everyone that is in the aviation industry, so also private pilots, enthusiasts, air traffic controllers, and flight attendants,” Rüdel said.

As a close partner of the NGPA, EPAN shares the same logo and the same values, and the two organizations have shared memberships. If you're a member at EPAN, you benefit from the network of the NGPA and vice-versa. 

Since EPAN launched earlier this spring, the organization has grown to more than 700 members from 27 different countries. Individual memberships cost €50 ($54) per year or €1,200 for a lifetime membership. 

Companies and other organizations can also sign up for an industry membership, which will include diversity training for employees. Nonmember organizations can also request diversity training from EPAN. The group is also looking to form partnerships with flight schools, airlines, MROs, and private pilot clubs.

EPAN offers several benefits for its members such as industry discounts and access to special events. Members also have access to mentoring programs and specialized mental health support. In January, EPAN announced a partnership with Resilient Pilot, a British nonprofit organization that provides mentoring and counseling for qualified and aspiring pilots and cabin crew.

According to Rüdel, EPAN is getting ready to launch its own crisis incident stress management (CISM) program, which offers peer support and counseling for aviation professionals in distress. European regulations require all air navigation service providers to have a CISM program in place to help employees cope with critical or life-threatening events such as airplane accidents. 

“We're creating kind of a queer aviation CISM program where people can call us if, for example, they've experienced discrimination,” Rüdel said. “We don't want them to put their heads down and crawl back into their homes and be all alone. We want to offer them some support.” 

Although the aviation industry has become more welcoming and inclusive to the queer community in recent years, people still experience discrimination in nearly every sector of the industry, he said. “I think for me, it would have helped if I had known other queer people in the aviation industry,” Rüdel said. “I think that would have made me feel more safe.”

EPAN is also providing its members with access to an aviation medical examiner (AME) who can offer specialized medical advice for queer people who might not otherwise feel comfortable speaking with AMEs about issues pertaining to gender and sex. “Because your [pilot’s] license depends on your medical certificate, sometimes you don't want to ask your own medical doctor these questions, because you might lose your license,” Rüdel said. “So, we now have this service where we have a doctor who will actually answer questions anonymously.”

In addition to providing these benefits, the core of EPAN’s mission is to provide a safe space free of discrimination and to foster a sense of community and belonging among like-minded people. “We're doing this because we want to make the aviation industry a better place—and because it's fun and we can meet a lot of people,” Rüdel said.