Skip to main content Skip to main content

Women in flight

American Airlines pilot dedicates her time on the ground to increasing the number of women in the air.

September 22, 2016

Doug McPherson

Stacey Banks wants women to soar in their careers – literally. Her mission: to increase the number of female pilots.

It’s a big job, too. The Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide reports that just over 5 percent of all commercial pilots are women – but Banks may be the perfect person for the task.

While most toddlers were earth-bound, wobbling around in their playpens, a three-year-old Banks was thousands of feet high next to her father, a pilot, enjoying bird’s-eye views of Colorado’s majestic spread.

“One of my first conscious memories is watching a sunset while sitting on a stack of phone books … acting as my father’s co-pilot,” Banks says.

Banks went on to study aviation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, becoming an honors student. By the end of her junior year, Banks was teaching others how to fly. In her senior year, she landed an internship with American Airlines and now has 12 years of commercial flying experience.

She has loved every minute of it.

Today, it’s a love she feels compelled to share – dedicating much of her time on the ground to getting more women into the air. She shares the story of her life in aviation as a volunteer at nonprofits, industry associations and by speaking to students at her alma mater.

“I've always enjoyed helping others who are starting out in any way I can,” she says. “Over the last few years, I have come to realize just how few women there actually are in aviation, so I decided I needed to be more involved.”

In fact, Banks says she herself recently found a mentor at American Airlines. “She’s wonderful and she’s helped me come to appreciate just how important mentorship is and I want to pay that forward however I can.”

One of the women Banks is paying it forward to is Emily Salley.

Banks was volunteering at a new student orientation for MSU Denver’s Aviation Department last fall when she met Salley. “She was a senior at the time,” recalls Banks, “and she was telling students about the 99s chapter [a women's aviation organization Salley had started].”

Salley says she caught the flying bug in high school after getting a two-hour flight as a Christmas present from an aunt who was a flight attendant.

“I’d never flown in a small plane before and wasn't sure what to expect. It was all very new to me,” Salley says. “After the flight, I was hooked. I thought ‘Wow, I didn't know this was the office view of pilots.’ I knew I wanted to make it my office view, too, so I looked around at colleges and started at MSU Denver after graduation.”

Banks and Salley meet monthly and fly together out of Centennial Airport, a few miles south of Denver.

“She’s already a great pilot,” Banks says. “I have every confidence that as she continues to gain experience, she’ll grow and mature even more as a pilot. Our personalities mix well and I see a lot of myself at the age and stage of my career in Emily and where she is now.”

Salley, who’s planning to be an airline captain, says Banks has “a great personality that mixes well with everyone. She’s given me lots of advice and even helped me build hours by flying with me. And she often checks up on how I'm progressing and offers tips.”

Salley adds that Banks suggested she find an internship, saying it would be a good experience and that she’d learn a lot, which led Salley to become an intern with Frontier Airlines in Denver.

Now Salley is paying forward all she’s learned from Banks – mentoring a young pilot through her private license.

“I will definitely continue to mentor pilots after I’ve settled in a career,” Salley says. “I want to give back what ladies like Stacey have given me.”

Banks continues her mentoring this weekend by volunteering at a Mile High Chapter of Women in Aviation event at Centennial Airport. The Sept. 24 program introduces 40 area girls to the joys of flying.

“I just feel like we all help each other out and that those who are further along should offer advice and give a leg up to others,” Banks says.