An International Affair

The 21st Annual Women in Aviation International Conference

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Connie Sue White

Today I had the chance to sneak out of the office (we’re shipping the April issue and there’s not a lot of leeway for me to be out if we’re going to be on time) to attend the Women in Aviation International Conference at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and Convention Center through Saturday, Feb. 27. (It helps when these events are just down the road!) I signed up to attend the luncheon to be headlined by an industry panel consisting of NBAA’s Ed Bolen, AEA’s Paula Derks, AOPA Foundation’s Karen Gebhart and EAA’s Elissa Lines. I arrived early enough to check out the show floor. The first thing that hit me was the lively energy resonating throughout the tradeshow. And then it was the number of attendees. It seemed crowded. But, maybe it just seemed that way because it wasn’t in a humongous tradeshow building like the Orange County Convention Center? Still, there was the energetic vibe and activity that resonated as I walked around. To confirm my take, I stopped by the Flying booth and asked Armand, who is a regular at the conference, if I was imagining things. He said, nope, this is “one of the more fun shows of the year — and this year seems more upbeat than last.”

Later, I headed over to where the luncheon. The doors hadn’t opened so I milled about and struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was waiting there too. Turns out he lived locally and is a UPS pilot, and was waiting to meet his wife (also a UPS pilot) at the luncheon, but she was still on the tradeshow floor doing business. While we chatted, an acquaintance of his joined us. He is in the military and was there to help recruit aviation personnel. Somehow our conversation turned to gliders. Both of them had learned how to fly them and spoke of how cool it was to soar. I am interested in doing that after I finish getting my privates. It’s always had an allure for me.

Once seated at my assigned table, I was soon surrounded by an eclectic mix of women: four from Nigeria who are with the country’s aviation authority, two from the United Kingdom (one a Brit who runs a flight school, the other a German transplant who works for a company that transports airplane parts) and two from Antigua, one of whom owns the FBO they represented. I was the only American. It was cool to see so many different aviation-related businesses represented at one table. Ones that I kind of forget about — and that are a big part of the GA economic engine. An eye-opening experience for sure. The coalition at my table was exactly what the heavy-hitting panel of experts was speaking about during the luncheon: that we are a coalition of varied businesses and interests all working in the name of GA and continued success will be accomplished together.

Though my stint was brief, I'm glad I was able to get a glimpse of this international organization (and still get the magazine shipped on time)! To find out more about Women in Aviation International, visit wai.org.