posted by Sheryl Barden on September 16, 2022

Aviation heroes - United Captain Jackie, Sheryl Barden, First Officer Rachel
Caption: API's CEO, Sheryl Barden, poses with United Airlines' Captain Jackie and First Officer Rachel after completing her their flight in an "unmanned" aircraft.

This article about female aviation heroes originally appeared in Aviation International News. View here.

Having been raised by a female leader in business aviation, I have a special fondness for all women in aviation. In fact, as I finish this column via JFK to SFO, I’m flying in an “unmanned” aircraft. That is to say, I’m in excellent hands with Capt. Jackie and First Officer Rachel in the cockpit!

We’re desperate for more women across all aviation disciplines. That’s why I’m honored to share my excitement about two important events occurring on September 24: Girls in Aviation Day (GIAD) and the National Aviation Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony.

Girls in Aviation Day

Launched in 2015 by Women in Aviation International (WAI), Girls in Aviation Day promotes the exciting career benefits of aviation. And GIAD has since grown to include 119 such events in 18 countries.

During GIAD 2022, WAI Chapters around the world will offer an array of activities for girls of all ages—from elementary age to high school students. And they’re hosted by positive female role models designed to inspire and showcase the meaningful aviation-related career opportunities available. 

Of course, we want to attract girls to fly and maintain aircraft. But there are a host of unique opportunities within our industry—in human resources, IT, accounting, operations, sales, law, engineering, and various entrepreneurial careers. 

Girls in Aviation Day will highlight various educational resources and scholarships available, as well as encourage young women to seek out mentorships. After all, I cannot think of a single person who has achieved success without help from multiple mentors.


On a personal note, besides my mother, Janice Barden, one of my most impactful mentors is business aviation pioneer Joan Sullivan Garrett. I think it’s quite incredible that Garrett will be honored as an enshrinee in the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) on the same day we celebrate Girls in Aviation Day. (Especially since we only have 12 percent of female heroes in the NAHF, hardly any of whom are from business aviation.

As many of you know, Garrett is the founder and chairman of MedAire and author of One Life Lost, Millions Gained: The Story of a Flight Nurse Turned MedAire CEO. While she was enshrined at NBAA-BACE 2021, Garrett will join her fellow enshrinees with the class of 2022 to receive her award in person. And I can’t wait to be there to celebrate her!

Since 1962, the role of the NAHF has been to share stories of our aviation heroes—and, in turn, to inspire, educate and ignite future leaders.

So, I recently spoke to Amy Spowart, the president and CEO of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, and asked her why it’s so significant that they’ve enshrined Garrett. Especially since Garrett represents the business aviation industry.

“We need to make aviation a more inclusive and open space so that everybody—male, female, people of color, people from all over the world—knows that there’s a safe place for them to land in aviation and that we want them,” Spowart said.

“Whether it’s in our education curriculum or through our awards, we promote the vision from someone like a Joan Sullivan Garrett, who wouldn’t otherwise be known outside of business aviation, and we share her story with the next generation.”

Speaking of the next generation, the NAHF will host a Wings of Women (WOW) event in partnership with Girls in Aviation Day. The day will give girls an up-close and personal look at “normal” people like Garrett who did something extraordinary. No doubt these young attendees will be inspired and moved, and they won’t forget those moments of meeting our industry heroes. 

Spowart continued: “Joan is an industry pioneer because she created something that nobody else had done before, which is what makes her worthy for induction into the Hall of Fame. And she mentors everyone she talks to. I’ll have a five-minute conversation and walk away with wisdom and advice that I never anticipated getting. She continues to share her expertise.” 

On Being Mentored and Mentoring Others

As I noted, Garrett is very much a mentor of mine. In fact, I’ve been a recipient of her advice, for which I’m very grateful. She’s encouraged me to use my voice in our industry. (In that regard, a big thanks to AIN for giving me this platform!)

And I’m honored to have followed in her footsteps to serve as the chair of the NBAA advisory council and as a director on the NBAA board. 

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when others believe in us and show us a path to success. In turn, I’m gladly paying it forward by supporting other women in our industry.

In closing, I hope you will reach out to a female in business aviation and give them a supportive nod or more. I also encourage you to do one or more of the following to pay it forward and inspire the next generation of aviation professionals: 

• Find and participate in your local Girls in Aviation Day event—it’s not too late!

• Promote the Aviation for Girls App among your aviation community.

• Take a look at the great work the National Aviation Hall of Fame is doing to help the next generation discover flight. 

• Donate to nonprofits, such as the RedTail Flight Academy, which—in the spirit of the Tuskegee Airmen—offers scholarships to young people of color who are interested in pursuing aviation careers.

• Become a mentor through the ACSF, AOPA, CJP, NATA, NBAA, WCA, WIA, and other associations and foundations.

• Host a GIAD event in 2023, if you’re inspired to do so. 

Sheryl Barden, CAM, is the president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, the longest-running recruiting and HR consulting firm exclusively serving business aviation. A thought leader on all things related to business aviation professionals, Barden is a former member of NBAA’s board of directors and currently serves on the NBAA advisory council.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily endorsed by AIN Media Group.

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