ALPA Pilots Connect, Engage, and Inspire at WAI

By Sharon Bhagwandin, Editor in Chief
F/O Camila Turrieta (JetBlue), the chair of ALPA’s President’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, standing at the podium, moderates the panel titled “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in the Aviation Industry.”

For women of any age who are looking for someone in an airline pilot uniform who resembles them, taking part in the Women in Aviation International’s yearly conference should be high on their list. The smallest spark of interest is sure to ignite after attending this event, which brings together an international crowd of thousands of aviation enthusiasts. Boasting more than 4,500 attendees, the 2022 International Women in Aviation (WAI) Conference, held in Nashville, Tenn., on March 17–19 was a huge success—as seen not just in audience numbers, but also in the highly spirited engagement and support for the aviation community from the participants, presenters, and sponsors.

Representing the airline piloting profession in a big way this year, ALPA pilots took a leading role, seeking to connect with current members as well as future aviators. Among the thousands who attended WAI’s 33rd annual event—the first held in person since 2020—was a team of more than a dozen ALPA staff and pilots from Alaska, Delta, Endeavor Air, FedEx Express, JetBlue, PSA, Spirit, United, and WestJet who volunteered their time to represent their union and profession.

“ALPA believes the rewarding career and just safety culture that union representation makes possible are fundamental to building a more diverse and inclusive aviation workforce,” said Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, who hosted an open discussion and résumé review with a standing-room-only crowd. “This effort is a personal priority of mine, and I’m committed to providing every possible resource for the effort. Together, we’ll cultivate and promote a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming culture, as well as make becoming an airline pilot more accessible while maintaining the qualification and training standards that have made flying so safe.”

During the discussion, DePete introduced the Honorable Jennifer Homendy, the NTSB chair, who also addressed the group. Homendy thanked the ALPA pilots in the crowd for keeping the skies safe and discussed the importance of staying focused on safety priorities.

Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, center, gathers with ALPA members who were among the more than 100 volunteers at the 33rd Annual International Women in Aviation Conference held in Nashville, Tenn.

At the conference, several ALPA pilots participated in educational panels, including “Keeping Relationships Strong and Finding Balance Between Home and Your Career”; “Yes, You Can Be an Airline Pilot”; and “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in the Aviation Industry.” The chairs of ALPA’s Membership and Education Committees and the President’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI) served as moderators for these important panels, providing the audience with firsthand accounts and advice regarding their experiences and how to move the piloting profession forward. Several secondary school–aged attendees asked the pilots specific questions about what first steps to take to become an airline pilot.

“The Education Committee’s charge is to help secure the future of the piloting profession,” said F/O Justin Dahan (FedEx Express), ALPA’s Education Committee chair. “The committee and its nearly 3,000 pilot volunteers are proud to provide the link between future aviators and professional airline pilots. We take our collective role in the future of the profession seriously, and we’ve been rewarded time and time again watching dreams turn into reality. We’re honored to help play a role in ensuring a strong supply of future pilots.”

Also helping bridge the gap between the classroom and the flight deck, ALPA continues to partner with aviation universities to establish Aviation Collegiate Education (ACE) Clubs, which serve as professional development and mentoring programs at 13 universities nationwide. The Association has also created two annual scholarship programs for aspiring aviators who seek assistance in their journey to becoming an airline pilot.

On the final day of the conference, more than 200 girls and their chaperones had access to a full schedule of activities devoted to Girls in Aviation Day. Ages 8–17, they visited 21 activity stations, listened to multiple aviation career panels, and had direct access to pilots and other aviation and aerospace professionals. ALPA pilots were among the more than 100 WAI volunteers.

The WAI conference is accessible to all, drawing a large international crowd. This year, attendees came from Belize, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Ghana, Ireland, Nigeria, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe. The trade show hosts a significant job interview/hiring fair during which future and current airline pilots can take steps to advance their careers. Among the conference attendees were many ALPA pilots who were there on their own and stopped by the ALPA table to connect with their fellow union pilots.

“Part of the Membership Committee’s commitment to our pilots is to educate and inform them about resources and services available to members,” noted Capt. Kandy Bernskoetter (FedEx Express), ALPA’s Membership Committee chair. “The number of ALPA pilots we engage with at events such as WAI reinforces that our presence gives us the opportunity to showcase the Association’s involvement in the aviation industry and discuss what benefits members have access to. The feedback is always positive, and we strengthen the relationship between our members and our union.”

Of ALPA’s 62,000-plus members, only 6 percent, or just over 3,700, are women. Of the approximately 3,700, 28 percent, or 1,050, are captains. ALPA is focused on promoting and supporting an inclusive workplace for pilots and calling for policy action to foster an accessible, diverse, equitable, and inclusive piloting profession.

“Since its inception, the PCDI has sought to cultivate and promote a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming culture at ALPA and across the airline piloting profession,” said F/O Camila Turrieta (JetBlue), ALPA’s PDCI chair. “It was encouraging to attend WAI and see that there’s an obvious need and a desire to continue to make gains in this area. The audience support and engagement certainly reinforced that we still have work to do.”

ALPA will continue to seek out new ways to ensure that the piloting profession attracts individuals irrespective of race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or other diversity traits while maintaining the pilot qualification, training, and experience requirements that have made air transportation extraordinarily safe.

The 34th Annual International WAI Conference will be held Feb. 23–25, 2023, in Long Beach, Calif.

This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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