Annual International Women in Aviation Conference Celebrates 25 Years

In March 1990, 150 people gathered for the first Women in Aviation Conference in Prescott, AZ, on the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus.

No one knew what to expect at that first conference, but after a weekend of networking, it was clear there was a need for more women in the aviation industry. Soon, the conference became an annual event, and in December 1994, Women in Aviation, International (WAI) was established as a professional, nonprofit organization.

This year, we mark 25 years of coming together, mentoring, networking, and sharing the trademark positive energy found at our annual conference. The 10,000-plus members of WAI represent the broad spectrum of aviation — recreational, corporate, commercial, and military. They include aeronautical engineers, astronauts, pilots, maintenance technicians, educators, air traffic controllers, avionics technicians, airport managers, dispatchers, high school and university students, air show performers, historians, authors, airport managers, flight attendants, and enthusiasts.



WAI’s networking opportunities throughout the aviation and aerospace industries have become legendary. The annual conference has gained a reputation as “the place to be for hiring,” that last year saw a significant spike in male attendees in the exhibit hall, like their female counterparts, also hoping to get face time with the industry’s top companies.

Membership surveys have indicated the No. 1 reason people join WAI is for the networking opportunities — because connections and relationships are an important part of climbing the ladder of success, wherever your particular ladder may lead.

In the late 1990s, local WAI chapters developed, helping members make meaningful connections year-round. Today the chapter network boasts more than 80 chapters, with local groups meeting worldwide, hosting dynamic speakers, touring unique aviation facilities and landmarks, and participating in community outreach efforts to encourage young people to pursue aviation careers.


Building the future

Over the years, WAI members have shown time and again they want to help their sisters in aviation succeed. In 1996, WAI awarded its first scholarship, and by 2013 the organization had given away more than $8 million to help members reach their dreams. At this year’s conference we will award more than $77,000 in maintenance scholarships alone!

While each year’s scholarship offerings vary, the opportunities are diverse, and there is truly something for everyone. Whether you’re a college student, or well into your career and looking to make an upgrade or change, from managers and dispatchers to pilots, engineers, and mechanics, there is a generous sponsor looking to help.

The ranks of women working in all areas of the aviation industry are growing, and their contributions are significant. More women are becoming mechanics and dispatchers, and a new emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula in schools offers hope for more rapid growth in the coming years.

A few years ago we recognized an opportunity to help younger girls find their path in aviation. Now in its third year, “Bring Your Daughter to the Conference Day” has become a popular addition to the schedule. The program, for girls ages 10 to 17, is designed to introduce them to the excitement and career opportunities available in aviation. Activities include learning to read a sectional chart, a junior job fair, simulator flying, a scavenger hunt through the exhibit hall, safety wiring, and the opportunity to meet and interview female pilots, mechanics, and aviation industry executives.

Outside of the annual conference, WAI also partners with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) each summer to put on Women Soar, You Soar for four days during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Now entering its ninth year, the event annually introduces 100 high school-aged girls to more than 20 mentors — from engineers to fighter pilots. The goal is to engage, inspire, and educate young women to pursue their dreams in aviation and beyond by giving them one-on-one time with women “living the dream.”

Also during AirVenture, WAI and EAA host WomenVenture, a day to celebrate the achievements of women in the aviation industry. The day kicks off with a group breakfast, moving on to the now infamous group shot of hundreds of women in the middle of the fly-in’s main static display area. Last year also saw the addition of a power lunch after the photo, offering another opportunity for networking and inspiration during one of aviation’s biggest weeks. Both programs ensure visibility for women at AirVenture and let girls know they have a place in the aviation industry while giving them pathways to pursue their dreams.

Our members make WAI the passionate, dynamic organization it is, and the future is bright. We invite you to join us in membership, and at our conference, March 6-8, 2014, at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL. Visit for information on membership and how to register for the conference!


Kelly Nelson is editor-in-chief of Aviation for Women magazine, the bimonthly publication of Women in Aviation, International.