Albuquerque Sunport proves hot spot for introducing girls to flight

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Lean Into Aviation (3)How do you inspire young girls and women to consider pursuing a career in aviation? For the organizers of Women of Aviation Worldwide Week (WOAW), the answer is to ‘Fly it Forward’ by having volunteer pilots introduce them to the wonder of flight in small aircraft.

More than 40,000 people participated in women-centric events organized on four continents to celebrate the 5th annual WOAW on March 3-8, and additional celebrations sprouted spontaneously around the globe, says the organization. Pilots reported that a staggering 7,343 Fly it Forward flights took place during the week (bringing the total since 2010 to 21,656).

One massive general aviation advocacy event, held at Albuquerque, New Mexico’s International Sunport (KABQ), turned out to be an astounding success, with 712 free “first flights” in private aircraft given to girls and women during the week.

Large crowds from Albuquerque area schools, local Girl Scout troops, and the general public arrived at KABQ ready to be inspired. And since WOAW’s 2015 theme was “100 years of female pilots in combat”, there was a significant military presence at the event. A USAF HC-130P/N “King” – the only dedicated fixed-wing, extended-range Personnel Recovery platform in the Air Force inventory – was also on static display.

The event was cosponsored by pilot Dianna Stanger, who flew 441 girls over four days in her EC120 helicopter, and by Del Sol Aviation and Cutter Aviation, two businesses located at KABQ. Other volunteer pilots who played key roles in introducing so many girls and women to flying included Ramona Cox, who flew 164 girls in her Cessna Turbo 206, plus pilots Bobbie Lind, Zack Hererra, Susan Larson, Lanny Tobbing and Darrick Coffield.

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Volunteer pilot Ramona Cox, right, fills her Cessna T206 with some of the 164 girls she flew at the Albuquerque “Fly it Forward Challenge” event. (Photo courtesy Dianna Stanger)

So successful was the KABQ effort that it won several titles from WOAW’s Fly it Forward challenge. Stanger won the “Most Dedicated Female Pilot Worldwide” title, while Cox picked up the “first runner-up” in that category. Jasmine Gordon was honored with the WOAW Week’s “Top Event Organizer” award for her work organizing the event at KABQ.

Albuquerque International Sunport was awarded the 2015 “Most Female Pilot Friendly Airport Worldwide” title by WOAW as the aviation community that introduced the most girls and women to flying in a small aircraft during the week. No American aviation community has qualified for this title since Frederick, Maryland, won the title in 2011.

Many parents said their children enjoyed the aviation event, notes WOAW. “I’m pretty sure we have a future pilot in our Girl Scout troop,” said Lisa Gunderson, “thanks for the amazing experience.”

“Being a pilot for this ‘Fly it Forward’ event was more fun that I could have ever imagined,” said Cox. “I flew mothers, daughters and military women, and watching their faces transform from anxious anticipation to sheer glee was amazing. I can’t wait for next year and would recommend the experience to all female pilots that have it in their hearts to act as role models for future generations.”

WOAW is an international event that creates an opportunity to impact women on a very large scale. “Gender unbalance in aviation begins with unbalance at the introductory level. Only one out of three young persons offered a flight introduction in a small aircraft is a girl. Fly It Forward is a call to action to address the flight introduction gender gap,” it says.

Stanger of Olivia, Texas is certainly doing her part. Since 2011 she has singlehandedly conducted flights to introduce over 900 girls and women.

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