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  • Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia


Interviews of, Articles about, and Books that Include Sonia

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Sonia Pressman Fuentes

The Sarasota Ninety-Nines raise money for scholarships for women interested in becoming pilots.

From Nov. 9 through 11, 2017, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's website contained the following article about a talk Sonia was due to deliver at the first anniversary of the Sarasota chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female aviators that was founded in 1929.

Posted Nov 9, 2017 at 5:33 PMUpdated Nov 9, 2017 at 10:04 PM

SARASOTA — Elina Lunin of Sarasota is among the approximately 4 percent of pilots who are female, and among an even smaller number of women who fly commercial aircraft. Those numbers haven’t changed much in recent years, but the number of groups available to support female aviators is growing.

Lunin is part of the Sarasota chapter of The Ninety-Nines, Inc., an international group of licensed female pilots from 44 countries. The nonprofit is headquartered in Oklahoma City. Its membership includes commercial pilots for major airlines, industry and government pilots, and flight instructors, technicians and mechanics.

All of them unite around one goal: supporting women who love to fly.

“We were lucky enough that there were women trailblazers who left a legacy for us,” said Lunin, the chairwoman for the Sarasota Ninety-Nines known as the Ladybugs. “We feel like we need to pass this torch to younger women out there who want to get into and continue that involvement in a field that is mainly dominated by men.”

Over the years, Lunin says it hasn’t been easy to be a female pilot. She’s met clients who are shocked when she introduces herself as the captain.

“Some of these men go like ‘What, you’re going to be our pilot?,’” Lunin said. “You see people thinking you’re a flight attendant — one guy thought I was the one bringing the food in.”

But she doesn’t feel pity over the lack of recognition; she enjoys delivering the shock and can see it from their point of view.

“It’s intimidating in a way — in some industries where there are more women,” Lunin said.

This year will mark the first anniversary for the Sarasota chapter, which is celebrating Saturday with guest speaker Sonia Fuentes, who emigrated to the United States in 1934 to escape Nazi Germany with her parents and brother. She was the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the co-founder of the National Organization for Women and Federally Employed Women.

Fuentes has spoken about women’s rights issues across the world and is the author of a memoir: “Eat First — You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter.”

“The focus of my life is women’s rights,” said Fuentes who has lived in Sarasota since 2006. “I’m thrilled about it. ... Anything that deals with women coming together and working together and women being professional aviators — that is what I do and it’s what I love. I spent my life doing it.”

Lunin says the “Ladybugs” are excited to step away from aviation for one night to hear what woman in the past had to fight for.

“It’s a reminder that we are all in this thing together,” Lunin said. “Some women worked hard for what we have today.”

It took some time for the Sarasota Ninety-Nines to enlist the first seven members needed to form a chapter. Lunin said she went to work looking for women when she moved from Fort Myers in 2015, where she was part of another chapter.

The group’s membership has climbed in the past year to 21 — something Lunin said is aided by the proximity of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

Lunin was working as a flight instructor at SRQ and said that women gravitate toward female instructors.

“I have older ladies that may be in their 50s and may want to get their license not for commercial, but just for a hobby,” Lunin said. “Helping those women too, and not making them feel so isolated — it’s nice to have someone from the same gender telling you what to do.”

The Sarasota Ninety-Nines participate in outreach programs and work with Girls, Inc. They are interested in partnerships with other local nonprofits, the Young Eagles and the Civil Air Patrol.

The group is raising money for scholarships to assist women who want to fly or obtain their commercial pilot’s license. They recently held a seminar on general aviation to Cuba and have a flight companion seminar — people who want to assist pilot’s but not fly the plane — and sell tumblers and shirts to raise money.

Lunin says she is involved in Angel Flights, a charity network of U.S. pilots that fly passengers for transplants or medical treatment when it is either financially or logistically difficult. She also organizes an all-women fly-in to Bartow, Florida, where women dress as witches and meet for lunch.

“It’s a sisterhood,” Lunin said. “We all are united by our passion which is flying.”

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