Margaret Jenny’s history with RTCA goes beyond her tenure as RTCA President. Prior to working at RTCA, she had the opportunity to co-chair an RTCA working group of Task Force 3 on Free Flight, and co-chair the subsequent RTCA committee, the Free Flight Select Committee. Little did she know, that her experience on those committees, as well as her entire career path was preparing her for the role of RTCA President. But now, after a decade of leadership, Ms. Jenny has retired from RTCA, but at the same time, is looking forward to what comes next for her, as well as for RTCA.
  • You studied sociology in college—when and how did you first “fall in love with aviation”?

“I’ve always loved aviation—my dad was a GA pilot when we were growing up in St. Louis, so he used to take my brother and sisters and me flying all over St. Louis. I loved to fly with him and watch him communicate with the air traffic controllers. My dad was an aeronautical engineer for Douglas Aviation, and later for McDonnel Douglas, but I never thought I would pursue aviation as a career.  I studied sociology in undergrad—I was going to pursue a career in that field. After I graduated, I was working on multiple research projects in sociology, and I really enjoyed the computer analysis aspect of the studies. So, I dropped out of the Sociology Masters/PhD program and began studying computer science.”  During this time, Margaret saw how aviation could relate and decided she wanted to do something combining the two.  She says she uses her sociology background these days, to help generate consensus with multiple groups.  “I have applied my sociology skills many times throughout my career, probably even more than my computer science background.”


  • During your tenure in the aviation industry, what do you believe has changed the most in aviation?

“It used to be a mode of transportation for wealthy people, and now it is a mode for everyone, which makes the world seem that much more of a smaller place. The biggest change probably happened after 9/11.  Everything is much more heightened now when it comes to flying, and there are more security measures; some precautions that have taken the joy out of flying, but obviously at the same time, has made it safer to fly. The emergence of unmanned aircraft seems to be the single biggest change since the advent of aviation.  UASs will change the whole definition of aviation—and this definition is one we haven’t yet figured out.”


  • What was the hardest thing you had to overcome throughout your duration in aviation?

“Well, when I started my career, I started at The MITRE Corporation. I was one of few women, and one of even fewer with a Computer Science background, which was a burgeoning field during that time—most everyone else had Engineering degrees—so I had to get out of my own way, and at the same time fight forces that wanted me to believe that I did not belong. I had great mentors all along the way and throughout my career, to help keep me on track and keep me focused.  Aviation has made huge progress in terms of race and gender, but it is still a male-dominated industry.”


  • And at the same time, what changes have you seen in the diversity of the industry, both with respect to gender and race?

“Aviation is making strides on the gender front.  There are a lot more women on all levels in the aviation industry.  Credence can be given to forward-thinking men, like some of the mentors I have had.  The industry is becoming more diverse, but I am dismayed to see the newer entrants who are changing the face of aviation—it’s very definition—from Silicon Valley, for example, are as male-dominated as aviation was in the 1980s.  We need to work harder to capture the imaginations of young girls, to make them believe that they can do anything they want, and that there are no professions that are off limits or unwelcoming to them. Unfortunately, there is even farther to go with race.”


  • How did you “dare to dream” that you could be President of RTCA?

“I grew up with 2 sisters and a brother, and I never doubted that I could not do anything, if I set my mind to it and worked hard.  It didn’t mean anything that I was a girl, and I owe that to my parents.  My mom never finished college, but she was determined that all of us did; and my dad never treated any of us differently from one another. They both challenged and expected us to be the best that we could be. So I never once, growing up, felt that there were any paths that weren’t open to me if I worked hard and applied my talents. As I said before, I started my career at MITRE, and eventually transitioned to working with an airline.” Little did Margaret know, as she began working at different companies for different sects in the aviation industry, she was experiencing the perspectives of all in the industry, which prepared her for RTCA, the go-to place for developing consensus with diverse and competing interests. “I was very fortunate—I also had great mentors along the way.”


  • You took the helm of RTCA at one of the worst times in the US economy...how did that effect RTCA? Do you see a relationship between the economic strength of aviation and the commitment to consensus?

“I was very fortunate.  I inherited a strong organization from the former RTCA President, Dave Watrous. During his tenure, he built up the financial endurance of the organization, so I was really lucky to not have to worry about financial issues during that 2008-2009 time period. I was then able to build on that sound footing and withstand the challenges, without affecting the output of RTCA and the staffing of RTCA. In regards to a correlation between the economic strength and a commitment to consensus, yes, I do see a relationship. From the airlines perspective, airlines spend money on things they can control, and will not devote substantial time and energy to things beyond their control. At RTCA, we educate all parties on how an improved air traffic control system can affect one’s bottom line. Once they (meaning all groups) understand that, they are willing to come together to fix the problem affecting them negatively and financially. All sides should want to make the commitment to ensure together that the FAA makes commensurate commitments to ATC infrastructure to achieve all intended benefits.”


  • What is one of your most cherished accomplishments at RTCA?

“Getting Task Force 5 (TF5) up and running and producing its recommendations, all in under a year. Task Force 5 refined what NextGen has become. It was against a lot of odds and competing interests. It also changed the NextGen scenario from a mainly technical challenge, to one that considered the operational, financial, cultural and political aspects of the aviation industry. Of course, credit should be given to the leaders and the more than 300 people who participated on TF5, for its accomplishments.  It was a game changer for ATC modernization in a good way.” Margaret also takes pride in the staff at RTCA, and considers them another cherished accomplishment. “The staff at RTCA is amazing, and they are a highly motivated team that wants to ensure the best results and output for our members.”


  • What advice would you give to those interested in, just starting out in, and pursuing aviation?

“Several things:

-          Don’t ever stop listening and learning. There are amazing opportunities happening right now in aviation, and these opportunities are the biggest since the beginning of aviation.

-          Seek out mentors. Always have people you admire around you, and don’t be afraid to ask them for advice.

-          Understand that aviation is not one-dimensional. It has technical, political, cultural and policy aspects, and you can make a difference pursuing any of these avenues.”


  • How has 10 years as President of RTCA changed your perspective on consensus?

“I came into this job believing it was important.  I am leaving, knowing it is absolutely essential. There numerous Special Committees, Working Groups, Task Groups and tens of thousands of people who have come to RTCA, and they get it—that it’s good for people to find common ground.  That’s the whole mission of RTCA. And that’s the problem with politics today—everyone wants to voice their own opinion, and no one wants to meet in the middle. Consensus is the only way to achieve lasting results.”


  • What do you think about the future of RTCA?

“We are living in tough times where consensus and compromise are not valued, and where competing factions tend to look for win-lose solutions, rather than win-win.  Yet historically, leaders in aviation have understood the need to collaborate on solutions that are interoperable, where we can share the airspace in a safe manner. I know RTCA has a bright future, and I know it is STILL the right venue to move things forward.  Our Policy Board and many of our members believe that as well. There will need to be a renewed emphasis on the operational concepts and environmental descriptions to drive performance standards. There are so many great people on our committees, and we have a great staff.  The new RTCA President will need energy and strong leadership to keep things going. RTCA will have to do more to “toot its own horn”, and let the industry know that RTCA is still valued and still the go-to place for collaboration.”

  • What’s next for Margaret Jenny?

“I am going to take some time, the next few months, to think and relax.”  Margaret says this is the first time she’s been without a job since she was 16, and she is really okay about it.  “There are some things I am passionate about, community service and homelessness, and I will get to focus more on that. But,” she says, “I am not done working. I will continue in aviation somehow, and will find ways to use my talents and relationships to make the world a better place.”


Margaret’s work at RTCA has not only enhanced the organization’s reputation as the premier public-private partnership and venue for developing consensus, but Margaret has been a pillar in and throughout the aviation community. Margaret, we salute you, and will miss you here at RTCA, but we know we will see you again.

--RTCA Staff