By Jim Pitman
Women account for just 6.7 percent of the total pilot population in the United States. And while the percentage of women student pilots has increased in recent years to 12.4 percent, and the number of women airline transport pilots has increased to 4.4 percent, the number of female private pilots has decreased to 6.2 percent, according to Dawne Barrett, president of the Stars of the North chapter of Women in Aviation International (WAI).
WAI is a worldwide organization dedicated to helping women succeed in all areas of aviation. It started in 1990 and has 12,255 active members in 79 countries. “All areas of aviation are represented, including engineers, air traffic controllers, pilots, business people, teachers, journalists, maintenance technicians, astronauts, dispatchers, flight attendants, airport managers, airshow performers, students, and more,” Barrett said. “To date, WAI has given away more than $10 million in scholarships and will award another $600,000 in March” 2018.
Even though the main focus is on women, boys and men are also encouraged to participate and become WAI members.
“Yes, WAI is an organization to help women succeed in aviation, but it’s not just for women. Forty percent of our local membership is male. We want the guys to know they are welcome and needed as well,” Barrett said.
The organization also holds a Girls in Aviation Day. “Girls in Aviation Day started several years ago as Girls Day, an event at the annual WAI conference. In 2015, WAI chapters started hosting separate Girls in Aviation Day events to focus on encouraging young people (mostly girls) to get involved in aviation. To date, Girls in Aviation Day events have been conducted in 28 U.S. states and nine other countries with an estimated total attendance of over 9,300,” Barrett said.
The largest Girls in Aviation Day event to date was hosted by Barrett’s Stars of the North WAI chapter on September 23, 2017, at Flying Cloud Airport (FCM) in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Barrett said the main objective of the event was to introduce girls to all aspects of aviation, so they can see the opportunities available to them. “Our last event was hosted by Premier Jet Center. We had 33 exhibitors with fun and educational activities for the kids and 21 aircraft on display, including a CRJ 200, Kodiak, L-39, T-6, and Blackhawk helicopter,” she said, adding that more than 1,400 people attended, including many families with young kids.
Trever Rossini is the owner of Inflight Pilot Training at the Flying Cloud Airport. Rossini and his team were an exhibitor and contributing partner at this year’s Girls in Aviation Day.
“It was an amazing event,” Rossini said. “The attendance was phenomenal…. We recognize that it will be a few years before many of those girls are able to start flight training, but we know it’s important to plant those seeds now and help encourage them to follow their dreams.
“We have noticed an unexpected, but welcomed, 30 to 40 percent increase of female students training at our school in the past year. We want to do everything we can to continue supporting Women in Aviation and help as many people as we can,” he added.
Exhibitors are invited to attend these events at no cost. Barrett explained: “We really want (our exhibitors) to put their energy into making the event fun and educational for the kids. Our partners donate generously to cover the cost…. We’ve found that this strategy works well and really relieves a lot of pressure for our exhibitors on the day of the event.”
Barrett also said that local Girl Scout troops have been involved. “The Girl Scouts have been a great support…. They are always willing to help out and the girls are able to earn their STEM badge by doing activities at the event,” she said.
WAI is looking to expand the Girls in Aviation Day event to more locations. For flight school owners and managers, it could be an opportunity to help a great organization while also promoting your flight school.
The next Girls in Aviation Day is October 13, 2018—connect now with your local WAI chapter to start discussing how you can help host a Girls in Aviation Day event at your local airport. If you don’t have a WAI chapter in your area, you can work with WAI to start one. You will be supporting a cause that directly benefits your flight school.
Learn more about Women in Aviation International at their website.
Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website.