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Sat, Mar 12, 2005

Women in Aviation Conference: 16 Years and Counting

By Aleta Vinas, ANN Correspondent

Dr. Peggy Chabrian, founder and President of Women in Aviation International took some time out from her busy conference schedule to chat with ANN about the past 16 years of conferences.

"It actually started as a conference in 1990 in Prescott (AZ)."  Chabrian told ANN. Attendance grew from 150 to 750 over five years and attendees began to ask Chabrian about joining the organization. "What organization?" was Chabrian's reply. The question did plant a seed and at the 1995 conference the Women in Aviation International
organization was announced.

"We didn't know what the potential was when we started the organization, maybe we'll get a thousand or two thousand people." Chabrian said. Today membership is nearing the 7,000 mark.

Some of the highlights, beyond starting the organization were, according to Chabrian "we started publishing a magazine in 1998." Purdue University started the first WAI chapter. "Now," says Chabrian, "we have over 40 chapters."

After 9-11 there were "some tough times" relates Chabrian. "Every year the conference grew." After 9-11 attendance suffered in 2002 and 2003. Membership decreased as well during this time. "Those were some tough times for the organization to weather through but things are starting to pick back up again,"  Chabrian stated.

"The companies (sponsors), almost without exception, stayed with us, maybe they couldn't do as much but they continued to participate at some level, in some way. That's been a big help," says Chabrian. This year over $450,000 in scholarships will be awarded.

Back on a positive note, the attendance will be near record this year with over 2,400 attendees. Over 450 of these are students, representing over 40 universities.

There is a record for exhibits at this conference, with over 180 booth spaces taken. After starting the first conference with five tabletop displays, there are now F18 simulators and racecars on display. Anyone feel the need for speed?

Another, somewhat intangible benefit, Chabrian sees is "the continued camaraderie of those who participate." Chabrian has heard attendees come to the conference to "get their batteries recharged and see that there are other women out here."  Chabrian believes it's like a "reaffirmation that this is a great field to be in and yes, it's ok to be a woman in an aviation field."

If you want to experience the camaraderie and mentoring, join WAI And mark your calendar now to attend next years conference in Nashville (TN) Mar 23-25.

FMI www.wai.org

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