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SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In Highlights Women in Aviation

April 1, 2024 News

This year, on its 50th anniversary, the annual SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo will pay special attention to attracting young women to aviation, even providing a special breakfast with guest speakers. 

The Women ACES Breakfast will be held at 7:30 a.m. April 10 to “champion women in aviation … and showcase the talented women who have paved the runway in the aviation industry.” It’s also designed to “provide opportunities to ensure that the future of aviation is as diverse and vibrant as the sky itself,” according to the SUN ‘n FUN website. 

“We’re so proud to honor the women who have paved the way in commercial and military careers,” said Jane Winter, vice president of Strategic Partnerships. 

Guest Speakers for Women ACES Event

“The breakfast includes a keynote presentation from Connie Tobias, a one-on-one interview with Lori Cline and our Partner Women in Aviation International, and a panel discussion featuring women working in the aviation industry from Republic Airways and LIFT Academy. The breakfast pays homage to the trailblazing women in aviation who have been pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, trainers and those in other professions in the industry. The speakers and panelists will share their pathway to educate and inspire future women aviation professionals.” 

Tobias has spent nearly 50 years in aviation. “She has flown 70 different aircraft, including vintage aircraft like the 1903 Wright Flyer and modern military aircraft like the F-4 Phantom Flyer jet. In 2003, she volunteered to fly troops and equipment to and from the Middle East during the Iraq War,” Winter said.  

She flew as a pilot for Piedmont Airlines, which merged with U.S. Airways, where she flew a half-million-pound jumbo jet from the U.S. to London 15 times a month. That company then merged with American Airlines. She retired as a senior captain. 

A graduate of Ohio University, she is skilled in aircraft systems, airworthiness, airports, civil aviation and ground handling, according to LinkedIn. 

The U.S. Air Force and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) are sponsoring the Women ACES breakfast. The 2024 Miss America, Madison Marsh, a second lieutenant in the Air Force and a master’s student at the Harvard Kennedy School’s public policy program, will be a guest speaker. She is the first active-duty Air Force officer to be named Miss America. 

Women like Tobias and Marsh are exceptional role models for young women looking to break into the field. There are other avenues open to girls as well, Winter said. 

“Girls are encouraged to participate in all aviation and STEM programming, including Junior ACEs during the Fly-In and summer camps,” she said. “One of the programs purposed with getting girls involved in aviation is ‘She Can Fly! Summer Camp.’ The girls: 

  • Learn about different aerospace career pathways from guest speakers. 
  • Participate in field trips and tours of local flight schools. 
  • Engage in hands-on activities like Redbird flight simulations and aircraft mechanics. 
  • Take a local exploration flight.” 

According to the Centre for Aviation: 

  • There were 8,206 women holding FAA certificates as airline pilots in 2022, 4.9% of the total number of pilots. 
  • The number of female pilots grew 71% from 2002 to 2022, compared with a 15% increase for all pilots. 

Worldwide, the percentage of female pilots, seen as the highest-paid and highest-status career in aviation, ranges from 4 % to 6%, according to the Centre. 

Eric Crump, vice president and COO of the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), said ACE and the Fly-In support this program and women in general.  

Women ACEs is a tremendous opportunity to recognize the awesome accomplishments of the women who make up our aviation industry,” he said. “This is important because women are still drastically underrepresented in the professional aviation environment. Creating this opportunity for women to meet each other and network with one another for encouragement and support is 100% on-mission for ACE and incredibly important as we seek to make aviation welcoming and inviting for everyone who wants to pursue the field for hobby interest or as a future career.” 

Eric Crump, Vice President and COO, Aerospace Center for Excellence

The Fly-In will be held April 9-14 on the grounds of the Sun ‘n’ Fun campus at Lakeland Linder International Airport. Adult single-day tickets are $45; weekly tickets are $170. Other ticket offerings, including to the opening concert featuring Dylan Scott, also are available, along with the daily schedule and much more information, at https://flysnf.org 

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