March 15, 2021
Airplanes and airports were always exciting to Elizabeth Dornak. She started taking flying lessons when she was 14, soloed on her 16th birthday and has been flying ever since. Even now, with about 9,000 hours of time in Gulfstream, Hawker, Citation and other aircraft, and as director of aviation at DuPont, Dornak is still excited about aviation and the people who make it their career.
“It’s inspiring when you are around people who want to do a great job,” said Dornak, who manages a flight department of eight and spent many years being the department’s safety director.
Dornak also manages to juggle her demanding job with her significant obligations as the chair of the NBAA Board of Directors, which was an especially daunting task this past year in light of the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The engagement of the board has been incredible,” she noted. “Our goal was to provide as much counsel and assistance as we could to Ed [Bolen] and the staff.” Dornak has also served on NBAA’s Operations Committee and the Certified Aviation Manager Governing Board.
When Dornak first got hired in 1988 at what was then Conoco, she wasn’t the only female pilot in the department; one of the helicopter pilots was also a woman. The catch: they were the only two out of about 80 pilots. “I’ve never really given a lot of thought about being a female pilot,” avers Dornak. “I just happen to be a pilot who is a woman.”
Mentors were far less common when Dornak was a young pilot, and she credits her husband – also a business aircraft pilot, and a former FAA inspector – with helping her during her career. “The opportunities are tremendous now for women in aviation,” says Dornak, who believes the best time to reach out to students is at the elementary school age, when they are still open to anything.
She and her husband have raised a son and a daughter. Both parents have been equally engaged – which Dornak said is critical – and childcare and creative scheduling helped a lot. “Sometimes, we’d do the child hand-off thing in the parking lot.”
Although both kids, now 16 and 20, have flown with their parents over the years, it’s Dornak’s daughter who is most interested in flying and is taking lessons – in a rotorcraft.
NBAA is running a series on women in aviation throughout March, which is Women’s History Month.