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“Flying is a man’s job and its worries are a man’s worries,” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his great adventure book Wind, Sand and Stars
, published in 1939. Loyal “Vantage Point” readers will recall that this is the very book I touted in my column last month. While I still recommend the book, the history of the airline industry — and of American Airlines — proves that with respect to the role of women in aviation, one of my favorite authors was way off base.
I am sure many of you read recently about Congress awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, our country’s highest civilian honor, to members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a civilian branch of the Army Air Force during World War II. Many Americans are unaware of the invaluable contribution female pilots made to the war effort. The WASP was created to enable more male pilots to go to the war front, and though women were prohibited from flying in combat, the female pilots flew a wide variety of important missions, including transporting personnel, towing targets for gunnery practice, shuttling planes to bases and more.
The WASP flew 78 different types of aircraft (every plane in America’s arsenal) and in the process became pioneers, role models and heroes to generations of female aviators who followed in their footsteps, including the hundreds of women piloting American Airlines and American Eagle aircraft today.
I am very proud that American Airlines has long been a place where talented women could pursue their careers. For instance, Carlene Roberts was the first woman in the airline industry to be promoted to the level of vice president. Carlene started her American Airlines career as a secretary in Chicago in 1938. When the United States joined the war, AA devoted nearly half its fleet of DC-3 aircraft to support the Army. Carlene relocated to Washington, D.C., and was appointed liaison between AA and the Air Transport Command. While she was in that role, AA planes flew more than 7,000 missions across the Atlantic in support of the Allied Forces. In 1945, Carlene was named American Airlines Vice President of Government Affairs.
Women in key roles and leadership positions are an important part of our history. Bonnie Tiburzi was the first female pilot to be hired by a major carrier. Beverly Bass was the first female pilot to be promoted to captain. Millie Alford, the first director of the American Airlines Stewardess College, received our company’s highest honor, the American Airlines Distinguished Service Award.
Today, female executives hold critical leadership roles in almost every aspect of our business, from running our airport-hub operation in Miami to leading aircraft maintenance in Chicago; from taking care of our people in HR to managing our financial assets in the Treasury Department; from leading Interactive Marketing (AA.com and the AAdvantage program) to running Engineering and Technical Services for American Eagle … the list goes on. And, of course, there are tens of thousands of female AA employees, all over the world, taking care of our customers, maintaining our aircraft, loading bags and helping to chart our future. We have a strong Women in Aviation Employee Resource Group, with five chapters, dedicated to promoting an environment that facilitates the hiring, professional development and promotional opportunities of women in our company.
I started this column quoting one famous aviator. Let me close by quoting one who’s even more famous: Amelia Earhart. She said, “Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn’t be done.” I would like to see even more young women pursuing careers in the flying and technical aspects of aviation, because the women of American Airlines have demonstrated that there’s very little in our business that can’t be done by talented and motivated individuals, regardless of gender.
I know I speak for our entire team when I say thank you for flying with us today.
Gerard J. Arpey
Chairman & CEO