Women are a common fixture in flights, but mostly as flight attendants, rather than pilots. As part of efforts to raise the number of women aviators, Delta celebrated International Girls in Aviation Day with its fifth annual Women Inspiring our Next Generation (WING) Flight, which carried 120 girls from Salt Lake City to NASA in Houston.
The flight not only had a plane-full of girls, planning and operation of the flight – from the pilots, to ramp agents on the ground, gate agents who assisted passengers on to the flight, and guidance from the flight tower – were executed exclusively by women.
Delta’s WING Flight began in 2015 to promote a gender-neutral aviator program and expose young girls to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers. According to 2017 data from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aeronautical Center, out of 609,306 pilots in the US, about 7% are women, and there are no female flight navigators.
In the past four years, 7.4% of Delta’s new hire pilots have been women. Over 600 female students have also participated in the program. “We know representation matters. At Delta, we believe you have to see it to be it,” said Beth Poole, General Manager – Pilot Development, who helped start Delta’s WING Flight and has helped plan the flight ever since.
“We’re taking ownership to improve gender diversity by exposing girls at a young age and providing a pipeline so that 10 years from now, they will be the pilots in the Delta cockpit inspiring generations of women who follow.”
Captain Kimberly Gibson, who was part of WING’s most recent flight, explained, “I am inspired by this next generation. I think that there are more and more girls these days that understand that the world is an open door. I think this is one of the best things Delta can do to put themselves out there, to put our airline out there and to grow the next generation of pilots.”
In Houston, the girls toured NASA’s Mission Control Center, Building 9, Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston, seeing firsthand the far-reaching worlds of flight and human space exploration. They also learned from women who have made their mark in male-dominated workgroups, including a female technician from Delta’s Technical Operations team, and Jeanette Epps, NASA astronaut and aerospace engineer.
The future aviators were ecstatic! “I never would have thought I would have had this experience. I’m really grateful for my parents who have made this possible and inspired my love of aviation. It’s such an exciting time to be in STEM. There’s so much left for us to discover,” said Karyanna, an 11th grader at Jordan Technical Institute.
Shanae, 17, a 12th grader from Jordan Technical Institute, added, “I’ve loved being able to look at all of the things these successful women have accomplished. I think we will learn from them and build on their foundation of success.”
Delta collaborated with schools in Salt Lake City with STEM or aviator programs, such as the Advanced Learning Center, Bryant Middle School, Granite Technical Institute, Jordan Technical Institute, Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy, and Salt Lake Center for Science Education for this year’s WING Flight.
Delta likewise supported an International Girls in Aviation Day in Madrid, where pilots and aircraft technicians from the US and Spain facilitated activities for children ages 7–16. There are also other programs to address under representation, and nurture a new generation of aviators.
These include implementing educational initiatives that inspire talent and remove economic, racial, and gender barriers; developing partnerships with organizations that fund education and support sustainable communities; creating a great workplace for women; and prioritizing women-owned businesses throughout the airline’s supply chain.
For many of the girls, the WING Flight was their first taste of a possible future as an aviator. “It didn’t seem realistic to go after a career in aviation, but today I realized, ‘Hey, I can do this too,'” said Katelyn, 17, a 12th grader from Advanced Learning Center. It seems that Delta is right on track in its goal to narrow the gender gap in aviation.