Connecting, Engaging, and Inspiring at WAI2018

 - March 25, 2018, 4:59 PM
This year's Women in Aviation conference attracted more than 160 exhibitors and 3,200 attendees to Reno. (Photo: John Riedel)

“Connect. Engage. Inspire.” This continued to be the mantra for Women in Aviation International’s (WAI) 29th annual conference in Reno this year. With more than 3,200 attendees—including 114 international representatives from 21 countries—filling the Reno-Sparks Convention Center from March 22 to 24, approximately 162 aviation companies and organizations worked on connecting, engaging, and inspiring young women and men to find their paths in the aviation industry.

This year, conference organizers offered educational sessions on topics such as aviation legal issues, drones and unmanned aircraft, digital transformation in aviation, and aviation professions, among others. Organizers also introduced a "Minute Mentoring" program that allowed students and young professionals to meet with industry mentors for short amounts of time.

Engaging Interviews

One way companies and organizations engaged with attendees was by offering face-to-face interviews. In previous years, the conference allowed attendees to sign up for a Fast Pass program that guaranteed participants a time slot for a job interview with six different U.S. airlines. Because of the program’s popularity, women and an increasing number of men waited in line for hours to receive a pass. These attendees would also wait by the airlines' booths, causing congestion in the exhibit hall.

The Fast Pass program did not take place this year, but commercial airlines and other companies took part in hiring briefings. Companies such as Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, Pratt & Whitney, Delta Air Lines, UPS, and FedEx held 30- to 40-minute briefings that outlined their application procedures, discussed current positions available, and answered general questions. 

Business aviation and charter companies were also looking to hire at the conference. Charter company XOJet is adding four new aircraft this year and is looking to fill approximately 30 pilot and office positions. XOJet recruiter Tess Mannering told AIN that the company received 15 to 20 resumes on the first day. XOJet hoped to educate prospective employees by offering them another option besides airline work.

“A lot of folks who go into aviation may go to major airlines like United and Delta,” Michelle Bauman, senior v-p of human resources for XOJet told AIN. “They don't realize there's this whole other side of aviation from a business aspect right now.”

Similarly, Desert Jet was looking to fill three summer intern positions, as well as some pilot and dispatch positions. An NBAA Certified Aviation Manager, president and CEO Denise Wilson told AIN that she did not see as many men at the conference compared to when the Fast Pass program was running, meaning that she had more time to engage with female candidates. In speaking with them, she found that many were not aware of the various opportunities in the aviation industry.

“There were three [young women] I spoke to who are junior level at their colleges, and they're aviation management majors, but no one in their university has told them what it will actually look like when they get out of college,” Wilson told AIN. “At this conference, everyone has direct access to people who are actually in these roles. Just being able to sit down with the students and say, 'Hey, here's what it's like in our company. Here's what I went through and how I worked in other companies. This is what you might or might not look like.' I could tell it's already been beneficial to some of the students.”

Inspiring Individuals

Among the keynote speakers who came to inspire the next generation of women in the aviation industry were Dr. Janet Lapp, CFI, Ph.D., a 3,500-hour certified flight instructor and clinical neuropsychologist; Lynne Hopper, vice president of engineering, modifications, and maintenance for Boeing Global Services; Marily Mora, president and CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority; retired astronaut-turned-artist Nicole Stott; and Janine Shepard, a professional speaker.

The organization also devoted all of Saturday to Girls in Aviation Day. Approximately 200 girls, including local Girl Scouts, between the ages of eight and 17 participated in games, spoke with industry leaders, and learned more about the aviation industry. Attendees took part in events such as a VFR navigation chart scavenger hunt, flight simulation, air traffic simulation, Morse code deciphering, and a college fair for older girls.

Shaesta Waiz, the founder of non-profit organization Dreams Soar, served as the keynote speaker during the lunch session. In October 2017, Waiz became the youngest woman to complete a solo trip around the world in a single-engine aircraft after flying 24,800 nm to 22 countries and accumulating 176 flight hours. She is also the first certified civilian female pilot in her birth country of Afghanistan.

“I am taking it back to when I was their age,” Waiz told AIN about her speech. “I was a refugee Afghani girl and English was my third language. I grew up with five sisters in a very poor underprivileged school district. I’m sharing how I went from that to becoming a pilot who flew around the world. I want these young girls to walk away with the confidence to say, ‘I know how to fly an airplane and I know that this is where I want to be.’ It's just having that attitude to say ‘I belong and I'm going to do it.’”

Looking Forward

With all of the tools the Women in Aviation conference has given its attendees, it is important to continue learning and growing. Amy Laboda, a founding board member of WAI, believes that women who attended the conference must move forward with this new knowledge. Using the friendships and connections made during the conference is key to paving the way for the next generation of women in aviation.

In her speech during Friday’s opening session, Boeing’s Hopper outlined the future of women in aviation: “We need more female talent across the board in aviation, and there's a huge demand for that talent. If you talk about just pilots in the United States, we predict a need for 17,000 pilots between now and the year 2036. Are you alarmed? Do you feel defeated or frustrated? You can feel that way, but you can also feel hopeful because with that there's going to be a pipeline for our daughters and our nieces and our neighbors to fill those open spots.”