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Aviation leaders, pioneers to address virtual WAI conference

The organization announced in November that it would hold a completely virtual conference for the safety and well-being of participants after studying trends from the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

“Although we are disappointed that we can’t meet in person, this virtual conference has allowed us to assemble a dynamic group of keynotes from all over the world,” said Women in Aviation International CEO Allison McKay in a February 19 news release. “We are excited that our virtual two-day gathering will enable more of our members to take advantage of the inspiring content, educational opportunities, and networking events.”

According to the event schedule, the opening speaker for the general session that begins at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, on March 11 will be Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems, a division of Boeing Defense, Space and Security (BDS) focused on “autonomous technologies, intelligence capabilities, and networking solutions from seabed to space.” Robertson joined the company in 1994 and has held leadership positions including vice president of tiltrotor programs, Bell Boeing V–22 program director, and most recently, vice president of engineering and chief engineer for BDS Strike, Surveillance and Mobility. Previously she was employed by the U.S. Navy as a civilian electronics engineer at the Naval Aviation Depot in San Diego.

Capt. Aysha Alhameli, the first female pilot in the United Arab Emirates and the first UAE representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council since 2009, will also address the session. Her pioneering accomplishments include being the first UAE permanent representative appointed to the ICAO council, and becoming, at age 28, the youngest permanent representative to the ICAO Council. In 2015, she was the first Arab female candidate to run for the post of secretary general, and in 2019 became the first woman to run for president of the ICAO Council. Alhameli started her career as a commercial pilot, and then joined the UAE Civil Aviation Authority as a senior officer for regulations and accident investigation. She established the Air Transport Department, and was the chief negotiator of the UAE, leading more than 80 bilateral air services negotiations. She has long been an advocate for gender equity who believes in empowering the next generation of aviation professionals. She is a founder and key supporter of ICAO’s flagship No Country Left Behind initiative.

In the afternoon session of the conference be sure to get acquainted with the U.S. Coast Guard’s first African American female pilots, an inspiring “group of five trailblazers who are proud to serve their country” who will take part in a panel discussion moderated by McKay. Nicknamed the Fab Five, the group includes Lt. Cmdr. Jeanine Menze, Lt. Cmdr. La’Shanda Holmes, Lt. Cmdr. Chanel Lee, Lt. Cmdr. Angel Hughes, and Lt. Ronaqua Russell. While each pilot has unique accomplishments, Menze is the Coast Guard’s first Black female aviator, and currently flies the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Holmes is the Coast Guard’s first Black female helicopter pilot, flying the Eurocopter H–65 Dolphin. Lee is also a helicopter pilot who flies the Sikorsky H–60 Jayhawk. Hughes serves as an aircraft commander and instructor pilot on the EADS HC–144 Ocean Sentry, and Russell files the EADS HC–144 and received the Air Medal for her heroic service during hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma.

The general session on March 12 will be addressed by Montserrat Barriga, director general of the European Regions Airline Association. The trade association represents “more than 60 airlines and 150 associate members, including manufacturers, airports, suppliers, and aviation service providers” before Europe’s major regulatory bodies, governments, and legislators to encourage and develop long-term and sustainable growth for the sector and the industry.” Barriga is responsible for her organization’s strategy and advocacy on policy and technical matters, including key industry concerns such as sustainable connectivity, and is “committed to highlighting the aviation sector’s vital contribution to Europe’s future economic prosperity,” particularly at the regional level. Barriga previously served as director of international development and industry affairs for the Spanish airline Binter, and led strategy development at Pullmantur Group.

Also scheduled to speak is Heather Wilson, a former secretary of the U.S. Air Force, former U.S. representative from New Mexico for 10 years, and former president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, who in 2019 became the eleventh president of the University of Texas at El Paso. Wilson has also served as a senior adviser to private-sector defense and scientific industry organizations. She is a member of the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation, and she chairs the FAA’s Women in Aviation Advisory Board. The granddaughter of immigrants who was the first person in her family to go to college, she graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in the third class to admit women and earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. She is an instrument-rated private pilot.

Hélène Gagnon since 2015 has managed Montreal-based technology company CAE Inc.’s brand “including public affairs, web and social media presence, corporate events as well as issues and crisis management” as senior vice president of public affairs, global communications and corporate social responsibility. She is a member of the company’s executive management committee and works to strengthen “relationships and communications with key internal and external stakeholders worldwide including CAE’s 10,000 employees, media, communities, and governments.” Gagnon previously worked at Bombardier Aerospace for 11 years, first as senior director of public affairs, and later as vice president of public affairs, communications, and corporate social responsibility.

For registration information and the full schedule of seminars, workshops, and other activities, visit the event website.

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