By Patricia Luebke
Fill a hotel ballroom with 2,500 women (and a sprinkling of men) all of whom have a passion for aviation and exude that enthusiasm, add guest speakers, educational seminars, a bustling exhibit hall and social events, and you’ll get a feeling for the intensity of the three days of the 16th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference, held March 10-12 in Dallas.
Conference attendees come from all aspects of aviation—airlines, corporate, maintenance, military and academia. You name it and that segment of aviation is represented. The theme this year was “Achieving Individual and Industry Success Through Strategic Alliance.” There’s no greater demonstration of forging those alliances than the constant networking taking place during the conference.
For a young person looking for a career in aviation, there’s no better place than this conference to get a career head start by making contacts and discovering opportunities. More seasoned attendees make themselves accessible and willingly share their expertise and wisdom in the hope that another woman will have an opportunity to build her career in aviation.
In addition to an exhibit hall—this year with more than 100 commercial exhibitors—attendees enjoyed hearing speakers including Captain Kimberly Black, who flies B-1B bombers out of Ellsworth Air Force Base; Ellen Engleman Connors, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board; Mooney President Gretchen Jahn; and Ralph Hood, known by many for his humorous aviation stories.
Educational sessions offered attendees hour-long seminars on careers, networking, historic topics and professional development. There was a session about flying when pregnant and a panel discussion by actual Women Airforce Service Pilots. Attendees had the opportunity to learn about NEEMO in one session—that’s NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations where astronauts are trained underwater for space travel. Professional crewmembers benefited from a session on the latest research findings on cabin air quality.
The Women in Aviation, International Endowment Fund, established to provide scholarships, got a huge boost during the conference from American Airlines/American Eagle ($5,000), United Parcel Service ($25,000) and The Chuck Yeager Foundation ($20,000).
Providing scholarships to women is a cornerstone of WAI. During the conference, $517,000 in scholarships was presented to 55 individuals. The scholarships range from training and type ratings to simulator time and cash awards. A former scholarship winner was so positively affected by winning her scholarship that she established a scholarship herself to pay back what had been given to her.
One scholarship winner is Andrea Nicole Bertin of Burbank, Calif. Bertin was one of three women who were awarded a 737-800 type rating from Delta Air Lines. Bertin is currently a first officer with Pinnacle Airlines, flying the CRJ. Like her fellow scholarship winners, she received the good news while at work. In fact, Bertin was just about to turn off her cell phone and push back for a flight when she received the call.
I was jumping up and down in my seat. I think the passengers heard my reaction to the call because the flight attendant called up to see if we were okay,” Bertin explained.
The conference culminates with the closing banquet. This year, Representative John L. Mica (R-Fla) was the banquet’s keynote speaker. Mica is chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. This subcommittee has oversight of all matters regarding civil aviation including airport improvement, aviation safety and security, and other related issues. UPS and American Airlines sponsored the banquet.
“One of the highlights of the banquet is the induction of new members into WAI’s International Pioneer Hall of Fame. This Hall of Fame was established in 1992 to honor women who have made significant contributions as record setters, pioneers or innovators. Special consideration is given to women who have helped other women be successful in aviation or opened doors of opportunity for other women.
Five women were inducted during the banquet. Captain Sandra L. Anderson was the second woman pilot hired by Northwest Airlines and one of the first female pilots to check out in the left seat of the Boeing 727. Anne Bridge Baddour was the first woman pilot to fly as an experimental research pilot for the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Flight Test Facility, doing airborne research for the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration. Colleen C. Barrett is currently president and corporate secretary for Southwest Airlines.
Barbara Erickson London, a pilot with the Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron, was the only woman pilot to be awarded the Air Medal for completing four transcontinental ferry flights in five days. Florene Miller Watson, another WASP, flew every type of training, cargo, fighter and twin and four-engine bomber that the Army Air Corps flew and delivered them to U.S. locations.
Conference-goers went home inspired and renewed with ideas and plans to put to use what they had learned. Next year’s conference will be held March 23-25 at the Opryland Hotel in Memphis.
For more information on Women in Aviation, International, visit [http://www.wai.org].