High as a Pilot
Although she describes her interest in aviation as “just like
the love fisherman have for boats,” Arlene Feldman’s path to her
current position as Regional Administrator for the Federal Aviation
Administration’s (FAA) Eastern Region has taken determination,
and perhaps not a little passion for airplanes and other flying
love helicopters,” she says. “They have a lot more flexibility
than fixed-wing aircraft. They can fly lower and land in places
that fixed-wing planes cannot.” To get a license to fly helicopters
or any aircraft involves a minimum of 40 flight hours, as well
as tests and certification, although according to Feldman, “most
people do not get their license within their minimum number of
She learned to fly at Wings Field Airport in Pennsylvania. In
the ’50s, there were not many licensed women. “It was more a novelty,”
Feldman recalls, when asked what instructors at Wings thought
of her taking lessons. “Women were treated kind of differently.”
Today, the situation for women pilots is “getting better, but
it’s still not equal.”
Last year, only 36,757 of the 625,581 licensed pilots in the United
States were women. Feldman partly attributes the predominance
of male pilots to WWII and the Korean and Vietnam wars. “Many
of our pilots who are now working in the airlines flew in these
wars,” she explains. During WWII, women flew service planes, and
while “many of them are still flying,” there were not nearly as
many. Now, with military cutbacks and more training for women,
there is an increase of women in the field.
Feldman herself is the first woman to hold her position, in which
she oversees all of the “aviation activities” in seven eastern
states, from New York to West Virginia. This is not a small task.
“Here in New York we have some of the most complex airspace in
the world,” she says. She credits hers and other women’s success
in the field to the Ninety-Nines, an international organization
of over 6,500 licensed women pilots that provides support and
networking in the aviation industry. In 1931, Amelia Earhart was
the first president of the group, named for the 99 charter members.
lot of the young women pilots credit the 99s for where they are,”
says Feldman of the mentoring done by the 99s. “You always can
use the advice and help of someone who’s been there.” As one of
the first women in the executive division of the FAA, Feldman
mostly has had to seek out the advice of men, whom she found extremely
Her own path started when her children were in high school and
she decided to get a college education. “I always wanted to go
back to school,” she says. She earned a BS in Political Science
at the University of Colorado, where her professors urged her
to apply to law school. “I was very interested in politics and
how it works,” she explains.
While at Philadelphia’s James Basley Temple University School
of Law, she discovered the field of aviation law. “It’s not a
lot different from any other kind of law, except for the terminology
involved,” she explains. Aviation lawyers deal with accident cases
and negotiations for FAA violations.
She became the Director of Aviation for the state of New Jersey
where she oversaw all the private airports in the state, which
are not regulated by the FAA. From there, she was recruited by
the FAA and made her way up to where she is today.
The bottom line in her work at the FAA has been safety. “Our real
responsibility is one of safety,” she emphasizes, adding that
aviation is one of the safest forms of transportation. Feldman
is constantly implementing and testing new radar and tracking
Feldman, an advisor to programs in three Philadelphia high schools,
also has two classrooms in her Long Island building. “Aviation
education has always been a part of what the FAA does,” she says.
She encourages people to get interested not only in aviation,
but in transportation in general. “What I tell students is they
should look at all careers,” she says. The FAA is a division of
the Department of Transportation, which also includes the Coast
Guard, among others. She also points out that there are many careers
within aviation, including not only pilots and mechanics, but
accounting, airport design, facilities maintenance and public
There are many resources in libraries and online for careers in
aviation. To start, visit the FAA website at www.faa.gov or the
99s at www.ninetey-nines.org.
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: email@example.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of
the publisher. © 2001.