Article written by Diana Bean   

     Kalitta Air OCC Employees Diana Bean, Kendra Hawley and Jennese Bean were fortunate to attend the 26TH Annual international Women in Aviation International (WAI) held in March in Dallas, TX at the Hilton Anatole.  The fact that there were more than 4,500 attendees from 16 countries and speakers who managed to get to Dallas was a minor miracle, due to the fact we had a snowy welcome that weekend.  We were lucky to get in just ahead of the storm, and of course, no one in the area knew how to “drive” in it, because it was almost three inches deep LOL!!

     The Conference was a 3-day-event, and as we were first time attendees, we were invited to the “Chapter Reception Invite” the first night.  Then we attended seminars and classes, took local tours and were inspired by innovative and remarkable speakers such as Colleen Barret, President Emeritus, Southwest Airlines and Ravi Chaudhary – FAA Executive Director for Regions and Center Operations.  

     Honorees were inducted into the 2015 Pioneer Hall of Fame – and we were inspired by such people as Pat Blum, who co-founded the Corporate Angel Network – the only charitable organization dedicated to providing free flights for kids with cancer using empty seats on corporate jets.  More than 45,000 flights since 1981!   We had seminars ranging from “Take the Lead”, an interactive and dynamic experience to keynote speakers like Amelia Rose Earhart, the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine aircraft, and Heather “Lucky” Penney, one of two F-16 pilots ordered to take down United Airlines Flight 93 before it reached Washington, DC airspace on 9/11.

     And then there were the women of WASP – Women Airforce Service Pilots – who made an incredible contribution in World War II.  They numbered more than 1,074 pilots who flew more than 60 million miles in every type of military aircraft across the country.  Between September 1942 and December 1944, the WASP delivered 12,650 aircraft of 78 different types.    These fine ladies were finally granted, in 1977, “Veteran” status after so many years of being denied benefits.  They were the role models who opened doors for today’s current female military pilots.  Many of these wonderful ladies have passed, but we were fortunate to meet some of these sassy and brassy ladies and talk with them and hear their incredibly funny and heroic stories.

     Some of the tours available were to the American Airlines Flight Academy or the DFW Air Traffic Control Center.  We took the Southwest Operations and Training Facility tour and were greeted with small gifts from Southwest and one of the most interesting tours I’ve ever experienced.  

    TOPS (Training & Operational Support) was a 120 million state-of-the-art building providing a world class Operations Control Center to rival any that I have seen (which I’ve only seen ours ).  The Training portion of the facility has hundreds of walls adorned with framed portraits and mementos from all of the past and present Southwest families, instead of artwork.  You can train with realistic ticket counters, baggage services, gate and emergency evacuation trainers and we even got to experience one of the many advanced flight simulators first hand.

    We met women and men from all corners of the Aviation industry and strolled throughout the exhibitor booths of 150 companies offering information about their product, airline or services.  Hong Kong started a WAI Chapter and we met the ladies from Delta who are working to expand this international network of aviation professionals. We also met with some of the members of the local Ypsilanti WAI Chapter who attending the conference.  The “Yankee Ladies” Chapter holds several meetings a year here at Willow Run Airport.

     The meetings are over at the current Yankee Air Museum building and everyone is welcome to come and join.  There are a lot of activities going on such as the recent “Bomber Buffing” of the B-17 & the B-25 which was a huge success with a big turnout, and included some “Rosie the Riveters” as well.  

     The upcoming Willow Run Air Show with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels August 29-30 will need volunteers, and we found out that if you work a booth the Air Show is free (except for parking).

     You would be surprised that this conference is attended by more men than women as it opens doors and presents advancement and networking opportunities for many individuals in all fields of aviation. There is a huge opportunity for pilots trying to get immediate interviews with some of the major airlines through the “Fast Pass Your Career” process (yes, just like Disney Fast Pass).    This was an eye-opening learning experience – one we will never forget and hope to attend again in the future.  We hope to promote this as a great opportunity for other Kalitta OCC personnel to experience in the coming years.                        

    There are opportunities for WAI members to be mentored or mentor others as was evidenced in the closing banquet and many, many scholarships totaling around $600,000.00 given out to such deserving recipients.  If you weren’t inspired, you were definitely humbled by the whole event and the wonderful speakers and gutsy stories of women and men overcoming obstacles in the aviation industry.

     Be sure to check out the WAI official web site and read all about the 2016 conference to be held in Nashville Tennessee and many more special events.  Women in Aviation, International is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing networking, mentoring and scholarship opportunities for women and men who are striving for challenging and fulfilling careers in the aviation and aerospace industries.