The Ninety-Nines China Section Holds First International Conference

Women pilots celebrate growing GA in China with art, community outreach and flights.

Tecnam P2006T
More and more airports are opening up in China to GA and flight training.Amy Laboda/China Section 99s

The first Ninety-Nines China Section International Conference, held November 7 to 9 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, set the bar high for Asian aviation gatherings, focusing on growing general aviation in 21st century China. The country lists more than 230 airports that support GA activities, from flight training and private flying to emergency medical flights, aerial firefighting and rescue.

Section founder and current secretary/treasurer Ida Zhang and section president Saki Chen, along with a phalanx of devoted volunteers—including FedEx Captain Wenyu Fu, helicopter pilot Nancy Gao and more than 20 other Chinese members—made the international attendees feel at home both in the bustling aviation industrial complex that Chengdu has become and in the sky.

Leah Beato in the Tecnam P2006T
Leah Beato flies in the Tecnam P2006TAmy Laboda/China Section 99s

The conference opening was sponsored by Sichuan Southwest Vocational College of Civil Aviation, a large, private aviation college and technical university outside Chengdu. There were introductions to some Chinese living legends of aviation, including 82-year-old Xiaohong Miao, who flew in the Chinese military from the 1950s to the 1980s, as well as a look at creative thinking presented by U.S.-based armless pilot Jessica Cox.

An opening banquet featured inspiration from iHeart Radio star Marissa Pei. The next morning the group reached out to the local community with presentations to four different aviation magnet schools, speaking in classrooms on topics including air racing, how airplanes fly and how to have a career in aviation today. Sichuan Airlines sponsored an afternoon at its capacious headquarters and introduced the group to one of its most senior female captains who spoke about flying as a woman in commercial aviation.

Dee Bond shares activities with local schoolchildren.
Dee Bond (New Zealand 99s) shares STEM activities with local schoolchildren.Amy Laboda/China Section 99s

Just talking about flying in China was not enough for this group. Taking a couple dozen women for helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft jaunts from Jintang Airport outside Chengdu to see the mountains, ancient water works and pagodas of the area is no small feat, but the section managed it with corporate sponsorship from the Chinese Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the China Air Transport Association and Tuofeng General Aviation Group.

The closing event took place in the Nanchang room at Licao Aviation museum in Chengdu.

About half of the international group, comprised of a mix of general aviation enthusiasts, pilots and commercial pilots from around the world, continued on to Xi’an and Beijing for sightseeing tours as well as sponsored flights from Badaling Airport in GA aircraft (specifically the Diamond DA40, Tecnam P2002 and P2006T) executed by Beijing Hua’an General Aviation over the Great Wall of China.