From locomotives, to marine vessels to satellite communications in aerospace, Rebecca Sidelinger has run a variety of different product lines in a variety of different sectors of transportation. After serving as senior director of satellite communications at Honeywell Aerospace for over two years, Sidelinger has just been promoted to a Vice President position, leading the company’s Lighting and Electric Power Enterprise and reporting directly to VP strategy, marketing and product management Carl Esposito.
In a one-on-one interview with RGN, Sidelinger tells us about her various management positions over the years, discusses Honeywell’s work as terminal unit provider to the Inmarsat Global Xpress (GX) program (to support inflight connectivity), and talks about how the firm is seeking to foster diversity within its organization.
What does your new role entail?
In my new role, I will lead Honeywell’s Aircraft Lighting and Electric Power business. I am responsible for driving both strategies that deliver and sustain growth for these businesses and productivity improvements that assure profitability. In this role I will also be leading our engineering, manufacturing, sourcing and other teams to assure the business strategies in these areas are in place to support the growth and productivity initiatives for our products.
What were your responsibilities in your prior position as senior director of satcom?
I was closely connected with our customers and what was going on in the market; and what were the trends … Passenger expectations are changing really dramatically. So understanding all of that, making the investment decisions on the product, and I mean basically running the business. Six people worked for me.
What’s your background in aerospace?
I have been in aerospace industry for about four years. For two years I managed propulsion engine lines, and then moved from propulsion to satellite communications [and now lighting and electric power]. I am an electrical engineer by degree and my first 25 years was with General Electric, but not on the aviation side. I worked a division of GE called Transportation Systems and we designed and manufactured locomotives. So in that business, I went from running locomotive product lines to the last five years I managed our marine business, so we took the engine from the locomotive and spun it into the marine space to power propulsion on vessels. I spent most of my career in engines and then made the transition into Honeywell managing engines and then moved over to satcom, which was fun.
[In satcom], I did all satellite communications, everything, all connectivity … all the L-band satcom, all the Ka satcom, and air-to-ground and for a time I actually had all the connectivity products, wireless access points, routers [but] that transitioned out of my portfolio.
How is the Global Xpress hardware performing on the Honeywell 757 testbed? Is it doing what it says “on the tin”, as they say?
I am excited. Somebody asked me the other day why is this such a big deal and it’s really twofold. One because personally [like so many others] I want to be able to get on an aircraft and stay productive. I am like you – I fly all the time and because we are headquartered in Phoenix I am making cross-country trips all the time. I don’t want to spend five or five-and-a-half hours on an aircraft and not be able to be productive. So I am excited about what [connectivity] brings to me personally as a passenger, but I am also excited about what it enables in the rest of the aircraft for all the other passengers plus what it enables on the connected aircraft.
A lot more people are talking about the operational benefits of inflight connectivity. It was pie in the sky for a long long time. But now, it seems as if we are genuinely going to see these pipes being used for a lot of stuff outside the passenger experience.
Yeah absolutely … including real-time weather updates that benefit the pilots and flight planning, but [this] also benefits us as passengers because it adds to our comfort, and makes for less turbulent flights. I am a firm believer that this is going to revolutionize the way we all fly. It is going to make a huge difference. We did flight testing around the time of the Paris Air Show and we were able to stream Youtube videos, and then [a colleague] yesterday said he actually FaceTimed his son and so it is cool. We are seeing the capability that we expected this system.
Airlines will decide what type of service they want to offer, but could Global Xpress be a streaming class type of service? Do you think passengers are going to be able to stream Netflix?
It will have the capability in certain applications but as you said the airlines are going to determine that. And certainly in business aviation we stream YouTube videos on the test flight as I said, so it has that capability. This can absolutely be used that way. I think the capabilities that the airlines choose to provide their passengers ultimately will be their decision.
More broadly, have you found the aerospace industry to be open and welcoming to women?
Yes it has absolutely been open, and you know those of us women in the industry really enjoy working with each other because there are not that many of us. So yeah I consider the other women in the industry that I work with my friends. It is just a really cool environment but I spent my entire background in male industries. I am very accustomed to being the only women in the room when I walk into a meeting, so when there are other women in the room it’s an exciting thing for me. I have great relationships with the other women in this industry.
Does Honeywell have any internal programs to promote diversity within?
Having worked at Honeywell, for four years, it’s been great to see that the company is committed to fostering diversity in our organization because of the benefits it brings in collaboration and innovation and ultimately delivering results.
Honeywell launched the Aerospace Women’s Council in 2014 to foster professional and leadership development for our employees and is championed by our Vice President and General Counsel of Honeywell Aerospace, Harriet Mountcastle-Walsh.
It is great being a part of an organization where I see successful females such as Harriet and Carey Smith, president of Defense and Space for Honeywell, lead important aspects of the company. Personally, promoting diversity is one of the critical tenets of my leadership. I am an active mentor to many diverse employees within our organization, both men and women. In my new role, I am responsible for a manufacturing site in Ohio. I visited the facility for the first time a couple of weeks ago and one of the first things I did was meet with the women leaders at the site. As a woman, it is important to me that I do whatever I can do personally support the career growth and success of the women who work with me.