ABC News(NEW YORK) — This team of aviation mechanics and technicians is taking the airline industry to new heights.
United Airlines’ Chix Fix is an all-female team of aviation technicians that is challenging the status quo. The team of 10 is the first commercial, all-female team to compete at the Aerospace Maintenance Competition, an international event designed to test competitors’ aerospace skills.
“Chix Fix is a group of female technicians who have come together to compete in the Olympics of aviation maintenance,” Bonnie Turner, managing director of Airframe Repair and Overhaul at United Airlines, told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “It’s just to demonstrate that female technicians are just as good as the male counterparts.”
Top teams from around the world compete, racing against the clock to complete aviation mechanical tests ranging from fuel checks to inspecting aircraft control systems. Although the competition is fast-paced, the competitors make sure that in their everyday routines on the job, they take the necessary steps and amounts of time to ensure the safety of the aircraft.
“The responsibility to come in and make sure that the aircrafts are safe for flight is a huge responsibility, but we have a highly skilled workforce and highly skilled technicians,” Turner said.
In 2018, Chix Fix was one of three all-female teams to compete at AMC and the only commercial all-female team to compete. They ended up placing in many categories.
“It makes me really proud, it makes me proud of United and my team,” Laura Spolar, an aircraft maintenance supervisor for United Airlines, told Good Morning America. “It’s been a really great bonding experience.”
The team is made up of technical operations members for United from around the United States. Although they don’t work together on a daily basis, they meet periodically throughout the year to train for the competition, and stay in touch when they’re not training.
“Right now, we’ve formed our own internal support system. We are extremely close…you don’t find that bond in the everyday workplace,” Turner added.
Chix Fix was created in 2017 by senior United technicians as a response to the lack of female representation in the competition. But that lack of female representation extends beyond the confines of the AMC.
While women haven’t been absent from the airline industry, sectors such as mechanics and technical operations have been traditionally male-dominated. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, approximately 2.4 percent of airline mechanics in 2018 were women. Comparatively, the same study revealed that 79 percent of flight attendants are female.
“Most times, I am the only female in a meeting or at a conference,” Turner explained.
Being the only female on a team often comes with its challenges as work facilities aren’t always equipped with resources for women.
“A lot of it was going into an area where they’re not used to having women, so they don’t necessarily have provisions there for you. Like, going into the tool room and getting a glove — we need small, they always have large,” Spolar explained.
Some facilities also lack locker rooms and restrooms for women, as well as uniforms.
“When I was pregnant with my daughter, we didn’t have maternity uniforms,” Spolar added.
Chix Fix’s members come from different backgrounds with experience ranging from a few years to upwards of three decades. Having the team around has provided younger generations with a form of mentorship, which Turner, who has 32 years of experience in the aviation field, recognizes is important.
“It’s been an amazing career path, I couldn’t have done it without allies in the workforce and mentors which have been men for me,” she said.
She has dedicated much of her career to helping guide younger women in the industry.
“Having young ladies in the workforce helps bring a different perspective and helps round out, whether it’s an approach to people or the workforce,” Turner said.
Line Maintenance Technician Zoe Wainwright, who has over two decades of aviation experience, took Yolanda Gong, an aircraft interior repair technician, under her wing when the two met at the Aerospace Maintenance Competition last year. At the time, Gong was a student competing with her school.
“If you’re there even as a student then you’re the best of the best,” Wainwright told GMA. “I knew she had to be a good mechanic.”
The two hit it off when they kept running into each other throughout the competition.
“I was the only girl on my team,” Gong said. “Then I saw all these ladies in their yellow uniforms and I recognized they were all women, even their coaches were women.”
Gong, a graduate of West Los Angeles College, was captain of her school’s team when she competed at the 2018 AMC. This year, she is competing as one of the newest members of Chix Fix.
Chix Fix hopes that they can inspire women to follow their passions regardless of what industry they’re in.
“Don’t let anyone tell you [that] you can’t do something just because you’re a woman,” Wainwright said. “If you’re passionate about it and you make sure you know how to do it, you can do it, and no one can stop you.”
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