The data, though preliminary, suggest a steady climb with hints of exponential growth—and the aviation community stands to gain much from Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.
Mireille Goyer, founder and president of the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide, marked five years of leading Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week March 2 through 8, and six years of holding the Fly It Forward Challenge, this time with a twist: Seven participants had already registered by March 11 for the First To Solo Challenge, a program Goyer created that offers sponsored prizes and flight training funds for the first 2015 participant to solo after getting her first exposure to aviation during Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.
In an email exchange, Goyer said that the social media audience has grown into the hundreds of thousands.
Frustration, in this case, was the mother of success.
In 2009, Goyer (who holds pilot certificates in the U.S. and Canada) searched in vain for a local event to mark the 2010 centennial of the first woman to earn a pilot's credential. So Goyer created her own event, and called on pilots around the world to give a woman her first flight experience. Pilots responded by flying with more than 1,600 female first-timers over the course of that first year (the total for the designated week in March was just over 300 flights, Goyer said, compared to an expected total for March 2 through 8 that could top 8,000).
“Many in the industry were focusing and continue to focus on funding scholarships for women as if cost of training was more of a deterrent for women than it is for men,” Goyer wrote in an email. “Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week and its associated Fly It Forward™ Challenge are large scale initiatives that address a proven barrier, lack of awareness among the female population, in a manner that allows girls and women to realize that they are qualified candidates.”
Goyer said that while reports were still pending from the field, it’s reasonable to expect that events held around the world touched 50,000 participants or more—including about 10,000 who gathered in groups to fold pink paper airplanes and launch them en masse. If that 50,000 total proves correct, it would nearly double the 2014 total of women who participated in at least one activity.
Jackie Alary, an advisor at Centre Québécois de Formation Aéronautiqe, an aviation college in Quebec, Canada, said (in a written comment relayed by Goyer), that the local event has proved able to inspire serious interest in aviation: “…for my part I can say that of all the activities I participated in as part of our school information program, this is one where I met the most motivated and interactive potential candidates (at) whatever their age,” Alary said. “And the parents of these are no exception.”
Goyer said it is no accident that parents—mothers, in particular—are encouraged to participate.
“When a girl or a young woman attends such event with her mother, the odds of success, should she decide to pursue an activity in aviation, are much higher because of the explicit approval from the most significant woman in her life,” Goyer wrote.
While the event’s numbers are growing, the share of women in the pilot population remains stubborn at around 5 percent worldwide and 6 percent in the U.S., a number which has held steady for decades. Goyer was recognized by AOPA for her efforts in 2011; AOPA President Mark Baker participated in the worldwide event in 2014. She believes her organization and the various events it has created will help more women find their calling in the cockpit, or elsewhere in the aviation and aerospace fields.
“Women have been missing out on a good thing for far too long,” Goyer wrote.
The various 2015 events were set up to give particular attention to creating opportunities for women who serve in nonflying roles in the military. Each of those flights helped build a theme honoring Marie Marvingt, the world’s third female pilot and first to fly in combat. Marvingt earned a Croix de guerre (with palms) for her bombing mission against a German military barracks in Metz, in occupied France, during World War I.