Matt Thurber AIN Online
Hera Initiative Seeks To Move the Needle in Bizav Careers 
July 7, 2023
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  • Hera Aviation Group, a non-profit organization created to help companies and individuals manage modern workplace issues such as retention and family dynamics that keep women (and men) from participating in aviation careers, has launched the Hera Initiative to help companies deal with these issues. Hera was founded by corporate pilot Jessica Webster, a mother of two children who has faced her own challenges with workplace discrimination against caregivers. 

    The initiative is focused on four key elements: education outreach, mentoring, internships and other ways to welcome new entrants, and ongoing career coaching and development. The spur for creating the initiative is that Hera found that even with enlightened and welcoming companies and hiring programs, a significant number of female professional pilots were giving up on their careers after going through all the steps to gain certification and become employable. Hera has found success in encouraging companies to hire and employ more women, but there remains a problem with retention. Based on Hera’s research, Webster said, “Every year, we may be getting more people to be interested, but there’s a bigger hole at the other end. We are not keeping and retaining the professional pilots that we create.” 

    Where Hera can help, she explained, is to work with companies that are willing to be flexible in order to attract and retain valuable candidates plus help those candidates with roadblocks to current and future employment. 

    What that looks like, from one example of a woman Hera helped, is a career pilot who had to take time off for her family because there was no workplace that could facilitate her needs at the time. So when she was ready to return to flying full-time, she faced significant obstacles to get current and ready to fly professionally again. The cost to go to formal training was estimated at $20,000. 

    So Hera intervened and found a local training company in New Hampshire that was able to help this pilot train to the level where she was employable, by donating simulator time. And the total cost to Hera was minimal, only about $500. “It wasn’t that hard,” Webster recalled. 

    Unfortunately for business aviation, the pilot, with Hera’s help, reached out to a number of directors of aviation to see if they would be interested in hiring her, but there weren’t any suitable opportunities. Although the pilot preferred business aviation, she ended up with an offer from an airline. 


    “It doesn’t have to be this complicated,” Webster said. With business aviation operators and companies facing severe staffing shortages, it makes sense to figure out how to attract women to career opportunities and also retain them as they face work-life balance challenges during their careers. Working with a consortium of leaders from all facets of business aviation, Hera is trying to help. 

    One example that Webster is working on is tapping right-seat pilot opportunities at simulator training companies. When training in two-pilot aircraft, some pilots don’t come with another company pilot and need someone for the first-officer role, and right-seaters can gain valuable experience and the promise of a full type rating, often starting from fairly low experience levels once they obtain their commercial pilot certificate. 

    “We’re leveraging that need to be able to put that candidate in that spot,” she explained. But beyond that, these pilots need help moving on to flying jobs once they gain the training center experience, then they also can benefit from internal development programs for career seasoning. For example, not just flying but also shadowing leaders to learn from them. “It’s not just developing pilots, but business aviation professionals so they understand the needs and roles of the organization,” she said. “They don’t have to go to an airline if they don’t want to. We’re building people that will cycle through and give back. Nobody has been able to create that connective tissue.” 

    In Webster’s vision, the Hera initiative doesn’t just apply to pilots because all types of business aviation employees can benefit from career development. “We want to be willing to try some new things,” she said. “We can move the needle on this staffing crisis. It isn’t even about pilots, it works for maintenance, HR, dispatchers, and operations people, and it’s something that can be scalable. We can do something to pay attention to people in their career journey.” 


    The director of a Midwest corporate flight department learned about Hera during a meeting with his peers and feels that an important part of his job is “helping a more diverse group find its way into this industry,” he told AIN. Corporate aviation has always been kind of a black box for those who aren’t already in the industry, he explained. “People say networking [is the answer], but if you’re outside the industry, you might not know it’s a possibility. This initiative is huge.” 

    His goal in working with the Hera initiative is to help attract more people from a variety of backgrounds into business aviation. That means, he explained, “We have to reach further out to help people find their way and provide our expertise.” This starts in his company’s case by giving tours to local kids all the way from preschool to college and coaching those who are interested. “You have to tell your story,” he said, “and help them connect to other people.” 

    But there is more to solving this problem, and he appreciates how Webster and Hera have been helping coach women who want business aviation careers and helping those who want to continue working even as they raise families. 

    “This leads to the next stage, what Hera and I are working on,” he said, “how to instill larger-scale change in this industry and enable people not from traditional backgrounds or older people [to participate]. A lot of my pilots have kids of different ages. One [is an airline pilot] and and her husband is a corporate pilot, they have a young daughter. There are things we can do to offer balance. Letting employees have self-determination on which trips they fly, and being able to trade trips. A lot of [flight departments] won’t be as flexible.” 

    In this manager’s opinion, figuring out how to bring new people into business aviation and especially from diverse backgrounds is critical. “From a company perspective,” he stressed, “it is a business imperative to do this. If you’re a company where people think highly of how you do things, you will get better candidates. We haven’t always been that way. 

    “There was a certain way of doing things in the generation before me. My team went through a rapid transition over a decade ago, now it’s a whole different department. We lost a lot of people through the transition. That was part of the recognition that we needed to have something different.” Improving teamwork is part of the change, and the department’s parent company “is really active in community engagement and diversity,” he said. 

    In practical terms, the department has been “able to step back from the 5,000-hour pilot” that many operations seek. “The team evaluates what we’re looking for in new candidates,” he said. “We’ve done hires at the lower end of the experience level, both pilots and maintenance technicians. They’re eager to do the job, and if you give them the right tools and pathway, they excel.” 

    Another area where Hera helps is because of the network that Webster and her team have built. “They have a desire to be proactive in the space of diversity,” he said. And members of the network can help each other. “If you’re looking for somebody, reach out,” he said. 

    Helping under-represented groups learn about business aviation careers, helping them prepare for future jobs, and mentoring them through their careers is important for this flight department director. “If we can be a little more human it goes a long way,” he said. 

    For Webster and Hera, bringing about change in business aviation remains a huge challenge. “The needle hasn’t moved since 1920 when Amelia Earhart took Eleanor Roosevelt flying,” she told AIN. “The needle points in a direction that is unsustainable for our future in aviation, women’s empowerment, and families. With all that said, we are one organization that is working to transform the industry in a way that helps to move the needle. We can’t do it alone. Furthermore, we believe that even moving one person’s thinking, one person’s way of leading, one organization opening the door to a woman, primary caregiver, or underrepresented cohort is moving the needle. So yes, we are moving the needle. And yet, we have a long ways to go.”