Special Report: Women in Aviation International (WAI) Conference, 2001

The 12th annual Women In Aviation International (WAI) Conference was held March 22-24 in Reno, Nev., attracting more than 3,300 attendees from all around the world. The networking, job fair and trade show event also featured FAA chief Jane Garvey, saw almost $1 million in scholarships awarded, was the venue for the induction of four new members into the WAI's Pioneer Hall of Fame and broke many previous records for the group's annual convention. AVweb's Ann Devers was there and brought back this report from the exhibit floor and the seminar rooms, plus a collection of exclusive images.


Current predictions indicate that within the next few years there will be a pilot and maintenance technician shortage that will impact the aviation industry in gigantic proportions. With fewer candidates for these jobs coming from the armed forces, the aviation industry – including the military – has come to view the female population as a pool to fill these shortages.

Fulfilling The Association’s Mission

The 12th Annual Women in Aviation International (WAI) Conference, held this year in Reno, Nev., March 22-24, brought together major airlines, commuter carriers, trade associations, the federal government, the U.S. armed services, engine and airframe manufacturers and a host of others with their target audience: the woman aviation professional. When it was all over, representatives of those major industry segments and many others totaling some 113 exhibitors courted and wooed over 3,300 WAI attendees, setting a record as the largest and WAI’s most successful conference to date, according to the association. Indeed, this year’s event was in stark contrast to the first WAI conference, which was held in Prescott, Ariz., in 1990. At that initial gathering, a comparatively paltry 150 attendees and five table-top exhibits were present. But, unlike most other aviation-industry events, the commodities being offered were not sleek, shiny new aircraft, the latest in whiz-bang avionics or new, more powerful engines. Instead, the commodity was much more basic: the job of their dreams and a career in aviation.

Female candidates weren’t the only ones signing up as WAI members and attendees at this year’s WAI conference. A record number of men signed up, also, to submit their rsums, to network with their peers and to learn as much as possible from the educational sessions and professional development seminars.

Training And Education For Career Development

The overall feeling of a WAI conference is much different from any other industry “show.” There is very little competition among either exhibitors or attendees and huge amounts of mentoring. Old and new friends compare notes and trade insights on how to best focus their careers. Some 36 educational sessions provided an wide range of information for newcomers to the industry and to old pros – who thought they knew it all until they sat in on a particular session – alike. From air traffic control, to human factors in aviation maintenance and inspection, to refractive surgery, to work and family, these educational sessions gave something to everyone who attended.

In addition to the educational sessions, Inspection Authorization Renewal seminars for maintenance technicians and an Aerospace Educators Workshop were also held, as well as two extremely informative Professional Development seminars. “Delivering Dynamic Presentations,” led by Gary Kral, manager of employee development at Cessna Aircraft Company, left his 300-plus audience members with tips and techniques for their public speaking. “Career Care,” another seminar presented by Cheryl Cage, president of Cage Consulting, provided a packed room with positive ways to interact with co-workers, supervisors and the general public. Afterward, many attendees reported that they closely related to the real-life examples Ms. Cage presented.

Additional General Session speakers included: Toni Bailey, vice president of community and education relations, The Boeing Company; Steve Forte, senior vice president of flight operations, United Airlines; Elizabeth Haskins, president and CEO, Signature Flight Support; Moya Lear, aviation pioneer and former chairman of the board of Lear Avia Inc.; Deborah McElroy, president, Regional Airline Association; and Karen Tripp, vice president of business communications, Rockwell Collins, Inc. Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, USAF (retired), test pilot and aviation legend, served as the closing banquet speaker on Saturday, March 24; FAA Administrator Jane Garvey gave attendees insight on future changes within the FAA during Friday’s General Session; and Sean D. Tucker, aerobatic pilot, entertained the audience as the luncheon speaker on Friday.

In stark contrast to most other aviation trade shows, the flavor of this year’s WAI conference was enhanced by children: Some mothers with careers chose to not leave their children at home. Dads and grandparents were brought along to assist in the caring while moms took care of business. These outgoing, happy children were welcome additions to the conference since they were seen and very seldom heard, proving that mom can have a rewarding career and raise extraordinary children at the same time.

WAI, as an association, has made great strides in supplying scholarship assistance to those who have chosen an aviation career. At this conference, some $901,925 from such name-brand industry participants as Airbus, Boeing, American Airlines, Cessna, Bombardier, Delta Air Lines, FedEx, Jeppesen, Pratt & Whitney – among others – was distributed to 99 women (572 applied) in areas like dispatch, engineering, training and maintenance, to name a few.

On the last evening of this year’s conference, WAI gathered at the closing banquet to induct four into the International Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame, which was established in 1992 to honor women who have made significant contributions as record setters, pioneers, or innovators in aviation. Thirty-seven individuals and four aviation groups have been inducted since the program’s inception. This year’s inductees were:

  • Mary Barr, of Janesville, Calif., who learned to fly in a Piper Cub in 1944. After WWII, Barr had a varied career including serving as a FAA Pilot Examiner and Accident Prevention Counselor, and in a variety of positions within the United States Forest Service, including the first woman pilot and smokejumper. In 1964, Barr became one of the first four women to compete in the Reno Air Races. At the age of 75, Barr continues to fly for pleasure.

  • Ann Baumgartner Carl, of Kilmarnock, Va., and Abaco, Bahamas, learned to fly in 1940 and entered Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) training during World War II. Later, she was transferred to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, where she became the first and only female test pilot. On October 14, 1944, Carl became the first woman to fly a jet aircraft, the Bell YP-59A. After the WASP disbanded in December 1944, Carl returned to flight instruction, and writing for the New York Times and other publications.

  • Elizabeth (Betty) Pfister, of Aspen, Colo., learned to fly in 1941 and ferried United States Army aircraft for nearly two years during World War II as a WASP. Pfister served on President Nixon’s Women’s Advisory Committee on Aviation from 1969 to 1972. She was also a member of the United States Helicopter Team, competing in the World Championships in 1973 and 1978.

  • Elinor Smith, Santa Cruz, Calif., soloed at age 15 and three months later set an altitude record of 11,889 feet in a Waco 9. In 1927, she became the youngest licensed pilot on record at the age of 16. At the age of 18, she became the youngest pilot, male or female, granted a Transport License by the United States Department of Commerce. In 1929, Smith and Bobbi Trout set a new women’s refueling record of 42.5 hours. Smith was selected by licensed American pilots as the “Best Woman Pilot in America,” in 1930.

WAI‘s founder and president, Dr. Peggy Baty-Chabrian, has assembled a board of directors including men and women from all areas of the aviation and aerospace industry. Conference volunteers served in every capacity to insure a successful meeting. The 6,000 WAI members include astronauts, corporate pilots, maintenance technicians, air traffic controllers, business owners, educators, journalists, flight attendants, high school and university students, air show performers, airport managers, writers, administrators, and others deeply involved in aviation.

Women in Aviation, International is headquartered in Daytona Beach, Fla., as a non-profit organization dedicated to the encouragement and advancement of women in all aviation career fields and interests. This 2001 WAI Conference fulfilled the association’s mission. The 2002 Women In Aviation International Conference will be held in Nashville, Tennessee.

– Ann Devers

WAI 2001 Image Gallery

(Click on an image to view a larger version)