The roar of jet engines filled the Grand Theater at Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nev., Feb. 24. As the curtain rose, the blinding lights of a two-thirds scale airliner illuminated the crowd. Women in Aviation International President Peggy Chabrian and AOPA President Craig Fuller waved from the cockpit of the giant replica and climbed down the stairs to welcome attendees at the opening reception of the twenty-second annual International Women in Aviation conference.
Two years after giving away a Piper Archer II at the event, AOPA President Craig Fuller had another award for a woman at the conference: a chance at achieving her dream of flight. Fuller presented the AOPA Student Pilot Scholarship to Krista Crandall of Thornton, Colo., during the reception after touring the exhibit hall and visiting with attendees during the day.
"To see the amount of enthusiasm on the floor as I was walking around was really heartwarming," Fuller said.
Crandall, a customer service manager at in-flight communications company Aircell, started building her career in aviation after 20 years in the travel industry and has begun training for her private pilot certificate. Fuller blogged about giving the award to Crandall, explaining, "I was impressed with Krista’s determination to complete her training while balancing the demands of work and family—and delighted by her enthusiasm for all things aviation."
Crandall said she used to enjoy going to the airport to pick up her father when he was traveling during her childhood, but she didn't decide to start training until after she started working at Aircell, where she could hear aircraft taking off and landing during the workday.
"It never occurred to me that I could go down this path," she told AOPA in an interview. She didn't see aviation as an option open to women as she started her career, but after she learned more about the industry it seemed like a great fit. "This is more like home," she said. She went on flights with a friend who is a CFI and then started training. The two encountered some updrafts during her first lesson, but she wasn't deterred. Now she has scheduled flights with a local flight school.
Growing the pilot population is a key initiative of the AOPA Foundation, and that includes bringing new people, including more women, into flying. AOPA has recently launched a student pilot retention initiative focusing on helping those who have already started training to earn a certificate. Along those same lines, the association created the $3,000 scholarship to help a Women in Aviation International (WAI) member earn a private, recreational, or sport pilot certificate.
As organizations with complementary missions of strengthening general aviation and increasing the number of women in the aviation industry, AOPA and WAI began a collaboration in 2009 that includes a stronger presence at one another’s annual events: WAI offers Women’s Wing at AOPA Aviation Summit, and AOPA is a sponsor of the WAI conference.