Kiah Erlich is director of Honeywell’s Flight Support Services based at the company’s global headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona. Her passion for STEM subjects and aviation led her to Honeywell’s software business, where she works in a diverse environment, creating technology for pilots as part of the Flight Support Services business.
“…My role includes creating technologies to help pilots fly more efficiently and safely… I get to spend most of my time traveling the world to meet with customers, industry agencies and our global team…”
Falling in love with aviation and becoming a pilot
I was already on an engineering path in high school and fell in love with aviation at a young age. The aviation community is full of airplane enthusiasts and likeminded kids; it’s a family. So when it was time to think about college, I knew I had to follow my passion. I studied Business Aviation Management at Auburn University in Alabama and earned an MBA in Aviation from the world’s largest, fully accredited university specialising in aviation and aerospace, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
While studying for my MBA, I worked at Sky Harbour Airport in Phoenix, Arizona on a two-year management rotation. I did everything from operations to PR, but I couldn’t help but wonder what other kinds of opportunities lie beyond that. My curiosity prompted my application for a Masters internship with Honeywell in propulsion engines and I spent several years working in that business. I was then introduced to my current boss, Michael Edmonds, who is currently VP of Aerospace Services and Connectivity. He heard about my passion for aviation, my experience as a pilot and knew I had to be on his team. The rest is history.
Joining the aviation renaissance: Creating technologies to help pilots fly more efficiently and safely
My role includes creating technologies to help pilots fly more efficiently and safely. It’s an exciting business to be in right now because software is creating this renaissance in aviation. It’s allowing us to get new technologies onto a plane faster than ever before, and since planes are becoming more connected every day, we can put eyes and ears on just about everything on board an aircraft to improve flight safety, efficiency and comfort.
To give you an idea of my day-to-day, it starts early in the morning on calls with our global team and extends past the work week when I fly on the weekends using our products and services. This job is 24/7 because of the global environment and the nature of software. Software is in constant use and continuously changing, so there is always something urgent to address.
I get to spend most of my time traveling the world to meet with customers, industry agencies and our global team. With my iPad always in hand, I try to replicate the flight plan even when I’m traveling commercially and not personally flying. I’ll also look ahead for weather conditions and turbulence using the Weather Information Service app, and check in with our 24/7 dispatch centre for ground delays. Other day-to-day tasks include:
- Writing product requirements
- Designing new apps and services
- Working with our avionics team
- Spending time in the hangar with our test pilots trying different prototypes
Honeywell and its markets
Honeywell Aerospace is a global company focused on creating, manufacturing and implementing advanced products, services and technologies that make air travel more efficient and safe. With 100 years of experience, the company works with airlines and operators to manufacture technologies that benefit pilots and passengers. Whether it’s for airplane cockpits and displays, sensor products or weather radar, our goal is to provide better, more comfortable experiences for travellers worldwide.
Honeywell has a strong global presence across various markets and works with high-growth regions (including Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe) to build solid foundations, maintain long-standing government relationships and drive more strategic relationships with local organisations.
Key factors to consider when creating aircraft software
No two days are the same in this role and when creating software for an aircraft, I must be sure all teams are involved and aligned on the end goal. One of the key factors to consider is how this technology will be more efficient for the aircraft and our customers. Another important element is the design of the software and how it will work with other Honeywell offerings.
I’m about to take classes to learn to code. Coding is really another medium for creativity. It allows you to turn your imagination into reality. When you can combine an art medium such as coding to a love and technical understanding of aviation, magic happens. That’s what’s taking place with our apps right now, and it’s a lot of fun to experience.
Women in STEM: Confidence follows passion
Yes, while aviation is still a male-dominated sector, every woman following their passion by working in the aviation industry is helping drive a cultural shift and inspiring other young women to enter STEM fields. Confidence follows passion. Wherever your passion takes you career-wise, your confidence will follow.
There are so many exciting opportunities in STEM fields because it’s changing the world every day. To keep up this momentum, we need more diverse voices. Women are strong and effective communicators, and we bring a unique perspective to the table. A smart and confident woman is unstoppable. I see the uniqueness of being a woman in a male dominated industry as a great opportunity to bring new, creative ideas to an organisation.
I strongly believe that we need more positive role models as living examples of women who haven’t let anything slow them down to bring more diversity across aviation and STEM fields. I’m hoping to help contribute to this change in the industry by mentoring others and through my career. I plan to show other young women interested in pursuing their dreams that they shouldn’t let trivial things like gender discourage them from their passions.
Aviation on the tipping point of big change: More female pilots needed
I would like to bring to light the need for more active pilots and women in STEM careers. Aviation is on the tipping point of a big change, but it needs more pilots and more women to make a real difference. These voices are critical to advancing the aviation industry. I want those who are on the cusp of making this career choice to feel confident that they can absolutely do it.
I’m aware it’s going to take a community to make this change, and I’m fortunate to be in a position of influence. I’m part of an industry I love and work with a team of skilled pilots, engineers and creative minds that are backed by the 100-year-old aviation legacy of Honeywell to power this crusade with me.