Time for change: Group hopes to increase percentage of female fliers

Time for change: Group hopes to increase percentage of female fliers

May 20, 2014

Girls are all smiles before their first flight.

In 1929, when The Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots was organized, about 6 percent of licensed pilots were women. Eighty-five years later, in 2014, still only 6 percent of licensed pilots are female.

Girls get a certificate to remember their first flight.

One Virginia group is trying to change that.

Women Can Fly is a volunteer organization whose mission is to promote flying to women of all ages, says Barb Wilper, 2014 coordinator of Women Can Fly Virginia. Women and girls ages 8 and up can sign up for a free flight this month. Events will be held at Hampton Roads Executive Airport on June 21 and Charlottesville Albemarle Airport on June 28. Two other events were held in May.

Besides the free flight in a general aviation aircraft, activities include static displays, special guests including women aviation role models, simulation opportunities and preflight briefings.

The goal is to inform girls and women about career opportunities, as well as introduce them to the fun and camaraderie of general aviation, Wilper says.

Girls are taught about the airplane before their free flight.

Many girls don’t think they can learn to fly, she says. This group is there to tell them they can. “We try to get girls and women in the air, so they can experience aviation and possibly spark an interest.”

She adds: “While flying is a technical activity, we try to inform girls that activities and occupations are not closed to them because of their gender. The barriers that existed years ago no longer exist.”

Wilper remembers those barriers, but they didn’t stop her. She flew recreationally and worked as a human factors engineer for McDonnell Douglas, which later became Boeing, and then moved to the FAA where she retired as a scientific and technical adviser for human factors.

In 2013, the first year of the program, 373 girls and women received a free flight. Wilper expects the number to be similar or even higher this year since they are adding a fourth event.

While people are encouraged to sign up in advance for the flight — go to the Women Can Fly website, click on the airport they’d like to attend and then navigate to “Sign Up for a Free Flight” —they can also sign up the day of each event.

The events are co-sponsored by the Ninety-Nines, the Virginia Department of Aviation, Liberty University, and the hosting airports.

Girls are taught about the airplane before their free flight.