Soaring past stereotypes

Organization encourages OU women going into aviation

Matt Hatcher | Staff Photographer

Kelly McCoy is one of 10 women enrolled in Ohio University’s aviation program of about 130 students. She earned her pilot’s license as a freshman and can now rent a plane for $150 an hour.

Kelly McCoy, a junior studying aviation, enjoys watching planes come and go while eating at a restaurant on the runway of Parkersburg’s airport with her friends. Afterward, they return to Athens, circling overhead to get a bird’s-eye view of the campus.

As a result of securing her pilot’s license as a freshman, McCoy can rent a plane for $150 an hour — not such a hefty fee when you split it between three other friends. And though it seemed McCoy didn’t have transportation to make it to her sister’s graduation day in Cleveland, she simply rented a plane from Ohio University and flew up north to be a part of the big day.

This image makes the profession seem like something from a movie, but it isn’t always easy to make into a successful career. That is one reason why McCoy decided to join OU’s Women in Aviation organization, a chapter of the international organization.

Women in Aviation International was formed in 1995 from an annual conference that proved to be successful. It is open to both men and women — with a national membership of 8,100, 7,368 of whom are women — and aims to encourage women to seek opportunities in the field of aviation. The national office is based in West Alexandria, Ohio, just 30 miles west of Dayton.

“We started with just about 180 people,” said Peggy Chabrian, the organization’s president and founder.

Chabrian added that the group’s goals are to encourage young people who have chosen to pursue a career in aviation, to help women pursuing aviation to advance their careers and increase awareness of the contributions women have made to the industry.

Only about 6 percent of the almost 600,000 active pilots in the United States are women, according to statistics kept by the Federal Aviation Administration. Women hold only 3.85 percent of the more than 500,000 non-pilot aviation jobs, excluding flight attendants.

At Ohio University, just 10 of the roughly 130 students enrolled in the aviation program are women.

“I think it’s not something most little girls are brought up to do,” said Theresa Meyer, staff adviser for Women in Aviation, who added that the relatively small number of women studying aviation at OU is reflective of a broader national trend.

 “I think it’s just still trying to break that ‘what boys can do and what girls can do’ stereotype.”

She cited Women in Aviation as an organization that can help change these numbers. Students should join to attend the annual conference if nothing else, she said.   

This year’s conference will be hosted in Dallas and will have representatives from every major aviation-related company. In past years, participants have been offered internships or even jobs and received 70 scholarships worth more than $500,000 in total. About 3,200 people are expected to attend this year’s conference, Chabrian said.

To help pay for travel costs, Women in Aviation is raffling off one free flight with an OU instructor for just $1. The flight can be scheduled by the winner and will last for an hour.

New member Chase Wagner, a junior studying aviation, said he has heard women get teased based on stereotypes, such as their inability to drive a car, let alone a plane, but doesn’t believe it’s more than friendly banter. He said the group’s annual conference was a big draw for him to join.   

Although McCoy has never felt extreme discrimination, she definitely sees some of that in her chosen profession. She said being a part of Women in Aviation and seeing women excel in the field has given her confidence.

“We can do this now,” she said. “We don’t have to be intimidated by all the guys in it. We’re going to do well, and we’re going to fly alongside them.”

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