(CBS NEWS)- A recent Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Houston was a bit out of the ordinary. A plane operated entirely by women flew 120 young girls to NASA’s headquarters to celebrate International Girls in Aviation Day.
The passengers on Delta’s fifth-annual WING flight — “Woman Inspiring our Next Generation” — ranged in age from 12 to 18. The aim of the program is to expose young girls to STEM careers and work towards gender equality in the aviation industry.
For many of the girls who all came from schools with STEM or aviation programs, it was their first time flying. They got to experience a flight run entirely by women as they headed for NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
“From nose to tail, the flight was planned and orchestrated exclusively by women — including the pilots flying the plane, ramp agents working on the ground, gate agents boarding the flight and women in the tower guiding the aircraft on its way out,” Delta wrote in a statement.
In Houston, the group participated in a range of activities, including touring NASA’s Mission Control Center and eating lunch with NASA astronaut and aerospace engineer Jeanette Epps.
“I never would have thought I would have had this experience. I’m really grateful for my parents who have made this possible and inspired my love of aviation,” said 16-year-old Karyanna H., an 11th grader at Jordan Technical Institute. “It’s such an exciting time to be in STEM. There’s so much left for us to discover.”
According to Delta, only about five percent of its pilots are women, which is standard throughout the industry. In the last four years, Delta said just over seven percent of new hire pilots have been women.
“It didn’t seem realistic to go after a career in aviation, but today I realized, ‘Hey, I can do this too,'” said 17-year-old Katelyn J., a 12th grader from Advanced Learning Center.
According to Women in Aviation International, 20,000 attendees participated in International Girls in Aviation Day this year. Seventeen countries participated to introduce girls to careers in aviation and aerospace.
“We know representation matters. At Delta, we believe you have to see it to be it,” said Beth Poole, General Manager of Pilot Development. “We’re taking ownership to improve gender diversity by exposing girls at a young age and providing a pipeline so that 10 years from now, they will be the pilots in the Delta cockpit inspiring generations of women who follow.”