Editor’s Note: This story is part of a weeklong collection of stories featuring women in aviation. These stories are in recognition of Girls in Aviation Day on September 26 sponsored by Women in Aviation International. Through these stories, learn about their early motivation and continued passion for TSA’s mission.
As Director for the Training Centers Division at TSA, Barbara Schukraft has the responsibility and privilege of making sure that TSA employees are given the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform TSA’s mission to the highest level. She manages TSA training locations around the country, including the TSA Academy in Glynco, Georgia, the TSA Training Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and TSA Canine Training Center in San Antonio, Texas. During her TSA career Ms. Schukraft has also served as a Regional Director and as a Federal Security Director of Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International and Key West International Airports.
What inspired your interest in aviation?
During my childhood years we lived in a brownstone right outside the fence line of what then was known as Idlewild Airport. Late in 1963, the airport was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport. Several of my family members worked at the airport and two uncles worked for Pan American Airways in Manhattan. Growing up I was extremely fortunate to have grandparents who took me on several trips by plane. I can even remember a Girl Scout trip where we took a flight from LaGuardia to Hartford, CT for the day. It was inevitable that I would end up working in the travel industry.
How did your passion for aviation lead you to TSA? What part of the mission do you find most interesting?
My airline career spanned over 30 years and during that time I lived in nine cities across the U.S. From East to Southeast to West to Northwest and then finally to the Heartland. For 21 years during my airline career, I lived on the West Coast – San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. It was time to change to do something a little different, and as a New Yorker with two brothers who were with NYPD, 9/11 is not something I will ever forget. An opportunity presented itself to join TSA in 2012. Given my operational experience I have a very clear understanding of both an airport and airline ecosystem, which has served me well with TSA. To be part of something bigger, to protect our nation against all enemies, has been extremely rewarding. Now to be a senior member within Training and Development, I have a broader impact on the entire TSA workforce and this gives me an opportunity to meet different people from across the agency.
Did you encounter career road blocks or challenges because of your gender? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
I’ve been very fortunate to work with mostly progressive companies and leaders who understand the value of having a cross-section of thought and input from several different perspectives. The one time I was truly disappointed was during the Gulf War, in 1990, when my airline was flying troops into Saudi Arabia. At the time I was an expert load planner for 747 aircraft and was in high demand for my skills. Given the restricted resources available on the ground in Saudi Arabia for each mission flown, they sent a load planner and a senior manager. I was getting ready to embark on a 24-hour operation, where we would have about eight hours on the ground and turn around and come back. I really wanted to contribute to our country for the good of the troops. Unfortunately, two days prior to my departure I received notification that due to my gender I was unable to go. There were no accommodations at the time that would support a female at the airport in Riyadh. I thought I must have misunderstood and maybe the entire mission was canceled. I discovered that was not the case at all and because I was not male it was not a place – or so my leadership team believed – that I should travel to. Life is all about attitude and there is always a silver lining. I have lived my life that way, both professionally and personally. I firmly believe that by continuing to do the right thing for the right reasons will always have positive results.
What advice would you offer young people who share your love of aviation and are thinking about a career in the industry?
Given the airline industry today and the downsizing of many carriers globally, the aviation industry will be more difficult to enter at this moment. However, if you have a love of travel and people, it has always been an exciting lifestyle that unleashes many opportunities. The friendships that I have formed globally have truly been a blessing in many ways. This is a great industry to be in and so many different facets of the operation will open up many doors. Exploring all facets of the industry, including working at airports or an online travel company may be a springboard for your future.
What hobbies or activities do you turn to when you want to keep a healthy work-life balance?
Traveling is my first passion! These last six months have been the longest in my entire life that I have not been on a plane. Before technology was brought to the skies, I used to say being in the air was my relaxation time. No one could reach me and it was my peace time to read a book and not be bothered. My second passion is baseball and none other than a die-hard New York Yankees fan. I haven’t hit every stadium in the United States, but don’t have too many more left. I’ve taken the added hours of not commuting and put them into exercise. I was walking five miles a day and now I’m biking 10 miles a day. Eventually I’ll pick back up my golf clubs and go back to the game I call ‘lessons in humility’!