How One Female Pilot Is Helping Others Get in the Air
Photo Credit: Natalia Bostan/Shutterstock
We’ve seen women take flight in their careers across so many industries. But when it comes to being in the literal air, there is still a big discrepancy between the number of male and female pilots. However, statistics show the number of ”women holding a for-hire pilot certificate” is steadily increasing. One such woman taking actual flight is Shelly Lesikar deZevallos, Ed.D.
The Girl Scout alum learned to fly during summers in her childhood and is now an active pilot with over 4,500 hours of flight time behind her. She’s worked for Cessna Aircraft Company, selling and demonstrating aircrafts across Texas and surrounding states. DeZevallos has also worked with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, advocating and testifying at state legislatures, working alongside policy decision-makers, and supporting the general aviation industry.
CircleAround caught up with deZevallos to learn more about her role in aviation, and how her work impacts her community.
CA: How did you get into aviation?
SLD: Learned from the ground up — no pun intended. Swept hangars and helped my dad when I was younger and grew up watching him and his business go through the ups and downs in a multitude of economies. I remember when I was in Girl Scouts and we had a badge on civics, and I remember saying then I wanted to help make our world a better place in any little way that I could.
As a pilot, I have learned the importance of having a 'backup plan.' I've had bad weather crop up, an alternator failure in flight, and other lessons learned.
Over the next few decades, and learning to fly, working in other companies, I've realized my passion for the aviation industry. Four moments come to mind: earning my pilot license 30 years ago, completing my doctorate, becoming elected to the National Business Aviation Association Board of Directors, and receiving an appointment by the U.S. Department of Transportation FAA to the Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee (SOCAC).
CA: How does working in aviation help you impact your community?
SLD: Our company is unusual. We are a privately owned, public-use airport for personal aviation and for what many people consider small airplanes. We are one of the busiest general aviation airports across the country.
I honestly didn't know I would end up a leader in our company, especially after I earned my doctorate in Aviation and Space Science. But since then, the focus on policy and government have been complimentary to working in a small business. I have the opportunity to work on a federal, state, and local level sharing the experiences and challenges of small businesses.
CA: How has the aviation industry changed this past year for you?
SLD: We are focused on keeping our company and customers safe through these challenging times. Our biggest immediate challenge prior to COVID-19 was the aviation-workforce shortage, industry wide. While we may have an uptick in available personnel in the short-term, in the long-term, we will still have those challenges.
Providing insights into business aviation and high-paying aviation careers to young people has been something I have enjoyed sharing. But training pilots isn't something that can be done overnight. My dad started the flight school here at the airport In 1967. It’s still very active and trains hundreds of pilots a year. The biggest reward is seeing people who learned to fly here stop in and say hello, and making friends and doing business with people from all over the country who fly into West Houston Airport.
CA: What lessons have you learned in aviation, and how do they apply to your everyday life?
SLD: As a pilot, I have learned the importance of having a 'backup plan." I've had bad weather crop up, an alternator failure in flight, and other lessons learned. But what's made a huge difference, was having a backup plan in my career.
Almost every industry can be affected by good and bad times. The aviation industry is no different. I've always tried to focus on additional educational programs — whether that’s adding another pilot rating or an additional degree. I earned my MBA just before the 2008/09 recession that hit the industry pretty hard. I finished up my doctorate, and that has opened up so many doors that I never would have imagined. So while flying has allowed me an amazing career, having those backups helped me soar even higher.