Inspiring flyers from the ground up

Published: 09 Feb 2017

Founder and president of Women in Aviation International Peggy Chabrian is an educator, pilot and qualified flight instructor. WAI represents around 12,000 women – and men – from across the industry.

How did your career in aviation begin?

The summer between my junior and senior years in college, I took my first airplane flight in a 1946 Ercoupe and began taking flight lessons a few weeks later. While working on my cross-country time, I was looking for ways to make money to help pay for my instruction. The airport I was training at didn’t have a ground school, so I decided to start teaching ground school one night a week. I then taught ground school classes or flight instructed in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee while working on my bachelor and master degrees in aviation at Middle Tennessee State University. I earned my doctorate degree at the University of Tennessee and then went to Georgia State University to teach, and within a year was their aviation department chair. A year later, I joined the faculty of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach. It was a great way to connect my passions of aviation and education. I still fly today and own a Cessna 150, my favourite to fly. My certificates include commercial, instrument, commercial flight instructor, and helicopter, private, single- and multi-engine ratings.

What is your role as founder and president of Women in Aviation International?

I am a facilitator for our staff and membership. Our annual international Women in Aviation conference, scheduled for 2-4 March 2017 near Orlando, Florida, takes a lot of organisation bringing together speakers, educators, tours and exhibitors, as well as executing Girls in Aviation Day, Orlando. I also oversee how all these resources can be provided to our members. We provide a myriad of benefits, including hundreds of scholarships, mentoring and discount programmes, and resources such as the Pioneer Hall of Fame, and Women Ventures.

What do you enjoy about the job?

I enjoy meeting and interacting with our members at various aviation events. In 2016, our scholarship programme hit the $10 million mark. This significant milestone now provides us the opportunity to hear the inspiring stories of our more than 1,300 past winners in a series in our Aviation for Women magazine called “Where are they now?” You can find yourself in the day-to-day work routine, but then when you put all the pieces together – hearing about the successes of our past scholarship winners and talking to people at the conference – it’s a very rewarding job.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Some four years ago social media spread the word that many of the airlines that were hiring were exhibiting at our upcoming conference. When the exhibit hall opened, we had long lines of people (mostly men in suits!) waiting for the opportunity to interview with an airline. We have refined the process since then. Another example is the decision to dedicate an event to “bring your daughter to the conference” – a step to inspiring future female aviators. This conference event eventually grew into the now annual organised Girls in Aviation Day. Since WAI became an organisation in 1994, it was never the intent to exclude men from becoming members. In fact, many of our speakers, conference attendees and volunteers are men. I think this has actually been a part of our success. While the Ninety-Nines (I’ve been a member since 1978) is only for women, WAI is proud to have men making up about 30% of our membership.

What do the next 12 months hold for WAI?

As part of our strategic plan, we will continue to expand our membership base by focusing on all aviation and aerospace career options, including flight attendants, engineers and maintenance technicians. We will continue to grow the Girls in Aviation Day programme as the third annual event is planned for 23 September 2017. While this important programme – to interest girls aged 8-17 in aviation – is in its infancy, last year 68 WAI chapters held 71 GIAD events across the world.

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