Peggy Chabrian, President of Women in Aviation International for 25 years. Photo courtesy WAI.

There are innumerable women we could celebrate year round, and Women’s History Month is an excellent opportunity to highlight their achievements. Since 1911, International Women’s Day – held on March 8th – has been celebrated in the United States, and Women’s History Month has been recognized for the past 30 years.

Women in Aviation International (WAI) is dedicated to the encouragement and advancement of women in all aviation career fields and interests. Dr. Peggy Chabrian has been the president of WAI for the past 25 years and attended the organization’s inaugural conference 30 years ago. The WAI annual conference is held in March each year because the first conference was scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day!

We gave Dr. Chabrian (pronounced shay-bree-an) a call to talk more about how the organization has made an impact in the last 30 years and what she is most excited for in the future.

4,500 people are expected to attend the 30th International Women in Aviation Conference in Long Beach, California this weekend.

How did you become the president of WAI?

I worked at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Arizona campus when the idea first arose to host a conference for women in aviation. Shortly after, I started working at Park College for five years, so those first five conferences were held there. As the attendance kept growing, women were wanting to know how to join the [unofficial] organization, so I wrote a business plan. The board of directors was developed, and they chose me to serve as president. Now it has been 25 years!

What is your favorite part of the annual conference?

That’s a tough one. My favorite aspects of the annual conference are the overall camaraderie and seeing all the excitement as people arrive. The event has a lot of energy and feels like a big reunion every year.

How does WAI bring new women into aviation?

The annual WAI conference is one way to bring new people in. The local media puts out information wherever the conference is being held. Trade shows and aviation conferences are another avenue. We find people who are attending an event with a spouse or friend but hadn’t considered being in aviation themselves.

WAI President Dr. Peggy Chabrian

Local WAI chapters also play a huge role in recruiting new members within local communities. We currently have 150 chapters nationwide, 40 of which are on college campuses. These chapters also help women – and men – in aviation connect with and support one another.

Another way we help build a pipeline to get more females involved is through Girls in Aviation Day.

A little bit about Girls in Aviation Day…

It’s important to reach girls at a young age to get them interested in aviation. Our 2018 event was a huge success, and I can’t wait for this year’s event on October 5, 2019.

Two girls assemble a Gleim foam flyer at the Girls in Aviation Day event hosted by the Atlanta chapter in 2018.

Here is a brief summary from the 2018 WAI Girls in Aviation Day:

The fourth international Girls in Aviation Day was a huge success, reaching 15,200 attendees, girls aged 8-17, around the world. On October 13, 2018, 105 chapters and corporate members held 101 separate Girls in Aviation Day events, including 10 international chapters, 26 corporate member events, 20 student chapters, and 49 U.S. chapters. International events were held in 15 countries including Australia, Botswana, Canada, England, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Ireland, Kenya, Netherlands, Nigeria, Spain, United States, and Zambia.

Read more: Check out our blog about Girls in Aviation Day 2018.

What are some ways women are making history right now in aviation?

We’re witnessing a change in women in aviation. The number of female pilots has not changed so much, but there are so many areas where women are taking on leadership roles or roles they were not in before. Commercial and airline transport pilots, airport managers, aviation business owners, administrators in the Federal Aviation Administration and the military… the list goes on. Having women in those kinds of roles creates women role models. People will say, “Oh, women do this.”

There is a lot of synergy right now involving people working together to promote aviation. We try and help corporations recruit women for aviation careers through our Jobs Connect feature on our website. We kept hearing from corporations, “How do we reach women?” so we started offering a job board for members and corporations to post their open positions.

What do you believe is the most important step the aviation community can take to create more female pilots?

Before I answer, I want to mention that part of our [WAI’s] success from the beginning is how open we are and inclusive. Since the beginning, men have been welcome to join. At our conferences, about 10% to 12% of attendees are men – it’s kind of flipped from typical aviation conferences. Overall, men make up about 20% of the organization’s members. This is important because we all play a role in helping promote aviation for more women.

Peggy Chabrian presents a certificate to a scholarship recipient in 2017. Photo courtesy WAI.

Scholarships are also critical. At our second conference in 1995, we gave out our first two scholarships for $500 each. In 1996, we were able to give out more and partnered with Northwest Airlines, which offered enough training for a type rating. This growth has continued over the years, and I am excited to announce how much we have provided in scholarship support at the conference. We are now able to provide 174 scholarships of nearly $850,000 this year for all different flight ratings, engineering scholarships, remote pilot, management, everything you can think of.

Gleim is proud to support Women in Aviation as a corporate sponsor and by providing aviation training materials to the silent auction. Consider bidding on a Deluxe Private Pilot Kit or the Gleim X-Plane Flight Training Course. Conference attendees can bid at the event, or anyone can bid online at the silent auction website. Your generous support helps WAI programs, including scholarships, research, grants, and educational agendas.

We are so thankful that Dr. Chabrian took some time to chat with us about women in aviation and WAI. Kudos to all the females who are making history as pilots or working in the aviation industry! If you want to share your own story about how you got into aviation, please get in touch on Facebook or by contacting us online.

Visit the WAI website to learn more about getting involved with Women in Aviation International and the benefits of becoming a member.

Written by Callie Wilkes, Gleim Aviation Marketing & STEM Coordinator