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WAI2021 is Virtual and Underway

The 32nd annual Women in Aviation International conference in online and underway.  The virtual gathering features 30 education sessions during the two-day event, with general sessions highlighting speakers from Boeing, NASA, and the United Arab Emirates, among others.  More than 100 exhibitors are participating as well.

In addition to the conference sessions and exhibits, WAI2021 will disseminate hundreds of thousands in scholarships this year.  Boeing awarded the first nine scholarships yesterday.  These will support women interested in manufacturing skills, career enhancement, and other training.  

Thursday’s general session keynote speaker was Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Autonomous Systems division.  She shared about the “enormous opportunity in front of us” regarding autonomous systems and how technology has become far more sophisticated since the beginnings of the basic remote piloted systems. Technology, such as artificial intelligence, will bring the scale necessary for autonomy, Roberston said.

She also stressed that this field needs a diverse workforce, noting that the number of women involved remains small.  “The challenge is for us to really change the numbers and change the course,” something that can be accomplished through outreach and advocacy.  Robertson added that she is “very encouraged. The future is very, very bright.”  She pointed to the recent flight of a KC-46A that involved an all-women crew for the first time.

Aysha Alhameli, the first female pilot in the United Arab Emirates and a UAE representative to the ICAO Council, expressed concern about the toll the pandemic is taking on the women pilot populations with last-in, first-out furlough and layoff policies.  But she said this year also offers an opportunity for a “reset” and stressed that inclusivity is no longer optional.

According to Becky Lutte, professor and researcher at the University of Nebraska Omaha and a member of the FAA Women in Aviation Advisory Board, women represent between eight percent and 25 percent of the students enrolled in collegiate aviation programs.  (At present, five percent of airline pilots and 2.5 percent of maintenance technicians are female.)  

A highlight of today’s session is a lunch hour with the U.S. Coast Guard’s five female African American pilots.  The conference concludes Saturday with a Girls in Aviation Day event.