Aviators, professionals connect in Reno

February 24, 2011

Few were new to aviation: Many had decades of experience, military honors, and accomplished careers. But not many of the more than 200 attendees at the International Women in Aviation conference’s new member coffee social Feb. 24 had experienced anything quite like the conference before.

Women and men of all ages and aviation professions convened in Reno, Nev., for the conference, designed to “Inspire, Innovate, Enthuse” women in aviation-related fields. The new member event, sponsored by AOPA, introduced members to the broad cross section of professionals and enthusiasts represented in Women in Aviation International--from the engineers who design aircraft to the pilots who fly them and the professionals who maintain them.

“I came here to meet people, network, learn a whole lot,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Laurel “Buff” Burkel, a navigator who found out about Women in Aviation International from the website of Women Military Aviators Inc. Burkel is deputy director of military management for the 618th Air and Space Operations Center (TACC), which schedules and directs aircraft in support of airlift and refueling. She said meeting people at the conference, including a C-17 pilot and private pilots from Alaska, has allowed her to see aspects of aviation outside of what she is used to.

“It’s nice to have those different perspectives. It refreshes your perspective on what you do.”

Women represent just 6 percent of pilots in the United States, but women are by no means absent from aviation, as evidenced by attendance at the conference. Patty Livingston and Brenda Staats, general aviation pilots from Alaska, met Burkel and other professionals at the social, their first event at the conference.

“Already we can see the diversity of people that are attending, all different aviation careers,” Livingston said. Livingston and her husband fly a Cessna 180 and a Glasair II RG, and Staats and her husband fly a Cessna 182.

Staats said aviation “wasn’t even on the radar” when she was growing up; she didn’t know people involved in flying. But after she moved to Alaska, met her husband, and started flying with him, she decided that she should learn to fly too. Now she knows many people involved in aviation, including her daughter, who is studying to become an air traffic controller. Her daughter attended the conference, too, representing one of the many aviation professions open to women today.