By NBF News

In the first quarter of each year, thousands of women as well as some male aviation professionals from around the globe usually gather at a specific city for the annual Women in Aviation International (WAI) conference.

The reason for setting up WAI is not farfetched. Civil aviation has existed for about a century, yet the sector has been dominated by men for about half the period.

Women were then laid back, embracing other less challenging jobs. But as time went on, they left their comfort zones and came into the industry.

Today, there are countless women pilots, engineers, astronauts, air traffic controllers and others.

For better cross-fertilization of ideas, WAI Founder and President, Dr Peggy Chabrian with other professionals, set up the body as a non-profit organization dedicated to providing networking, education, mentoring and scholarship opportunities for women (and men) who are striving for challenging and fulfilling careers in the aviation and aerospace industries.

From that came the birth of the annual conference where women and men from around the globe attend to share ideas.

This year's edition took place from February 24-26. It was a period hundreds of women and men aviators from across the globe jettisoned other engagements to gather in Reno Nevada, in the United States, to brainstorm on ways of moving the aviation sector forward.

The programme was the 22nd Annual Women In Aviation International (WAI) conference.

The three days were action packed and the Grand Sierra Resort, Reno probably hosted the highest number of guests within the period, since its establishment.

Obviously, there were more women than men and all the six continents of the world were represented. The women came from virtually all sectors of aviation, including the military and paramilitary. There were women pilots, aircraft designers, aircraft maintenance engineers, air traffic controllers, air traffic engineers, ground handlers, aviation security personnel, consultants, aeronautical information service providers, the air force, air navy, Federal Reserve and a host of other professionals in the industry.

Nigerian women in aviation defied all odds and flew for over 20 hours to be in Reno, also known as the world's biggest little city. Reno offers wonderful accommodation, great gaming, casinos, exotic skis and other fun packages and it is in close proximity to many areas.

Since 2006 when WAI, Nigerian Chapter was inaugurated, a lot of women have been participating.

This year's outing was even grander as the Aviation Ministry sponsored a handful of women. The reason for this is not far-fetched: Nigeria has never witnessed the high number of women that are currently in the aviation sector since the industry emerged in the country decades back.

The Aviation Minister, Fidelia Njeze is a woman and so is the Permanent Secretary, Ms Anne Ita. The Director of Administration at the Ministry is also a woman. At the parastatal level, the Finance Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Elizabeth Agom is a woman. The story is the same at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), where Mrs Azuka Onyia occupies the same position. At the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Mrs. Eleanya Ebila is the Director in charge of Finance and Administration. There are also many women serving as General Managers and Deputy General Managers across the parastatals in the aviation sector.

This has made the women a strong force to be reckoned with in the industry and it was with the same force that they stormed Reno, Nevada for the conference.

Leading the delegation was the Director of Administration at the Aviation Ministry, Mrs Aremu Abidemi. She represented the Permanent Secretary.

However, Abidemi did not show up until 24 hours to the end of the programme. In her absence, the Director of Finance NAMA, Mrs Elizabeth Agom led the pack.

At the conference with the theme: 'Inspire-Enthuse-Innovate', participants had opportunities for networking, presentations by well-known aviation professionals and many career and educational seminars.

Unlike other boring seminars and conferences where experts lecture the attendees endlessly, the WAI Reno conference was quite interactive and people had opportunities to share their experiences on several issues peculiar to their environment.

Kick-starting the programme, President and Founder of WAI, Dr Peggy Chabrian charged all participants to attend as many sessions as they possibly could, saying they were generally interactive and enriching.

She said further: 'Confirmed Keynote speakers include; Lt.Col. Maryse Carmichael, Snowbirds Commander; John and Martha King, Co-Owners, King Schools Inc.; Rod Machado, CFI, Author, and Aviation Humorist; Maria Sastre, COO of Signature Flight Support; and Mark Van Tine, President/CEO of Jeppesen. Our keynote speakers cover the broad range of interests our members have. From those members with military careers to corporate pilots, flight instructors and those who fly for fun, or not at all, our speakers present a variety of viewpoints and expertise,' said Dr Chabrian.

Another highlight of this year's Conference was a panel discussion of NextGen by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) executives. Panelists included Teri Bristol, Vice President, Tech Ops Service and Kate Lang, Acting Associate Administrator, Airports.

'NextGen is a huge initiative that will affect the aviation community for years to come, and we want our members to be informed and knowledgeable,' added Dr. Chabrian.

At a Press briefing in Reno, the NAMA Finance Director, Mrs Elizabeth Agom who spoke on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, Ms Anne Ita said the government was ready and willing to address the manpower challenge facing the country's aviation sector, even as she encouraged more women to come and take up careers in the sector.

According to her, women, over the years, have been discovered to be as sound and efficient as the men, adding that they were more difficult to poach since they become mothers and, due to family commitment, could change jobs easily from country to country.

She described the annual WAI conference as a strong platform to educate, inform, sensitize and educate thousands of women from various countries who in turn take back what they have learnt to their various establishments to bring about the desired change and development.

Agom asserted that the government's resolve in ensuring better women participation in the aviation sector made it to sponsor a delegation to the Nevada conference led by the Permanent Secretary.

'The government has been very encouraging in its drive to improve manpower in the aviation sector and the government does not discriminate against women professionals.  I think the only thing for us is to take back home the message so that tertiary institutions can be encouraged because the more you look, the better. We have not put in place anything as members of Women In Aviation International like going to schools and sensitizing them on career decisions and encourage them, and if possible, as an organization, institute scholarships for children who want to get educated in courses relating to aviation. More so, we cannot say that government is not encouraging us because up to the level we have applied to participate, they have always given us approvals.

So I believe government is encouraging us in that regard and you know also that in the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, there is no discrimination against the women. They go for the same training; for instance in NAMA we have air traffic controllers that are women, which is new. And in meteorological services, we have women that are doing a lot. We have engineers and others. It cuts across all the areas', she stated.