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JBSA News
NEWS | Jan. 25, 2024

Baby on board! Laughlin instructor pilot makes history with groundbreaking policy change

By Senior Airman Kailee Reynolds 47th Flying Training Wing

Capt. Tabitha Letourneau, an 86th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, made history on Jan. 4, 2024, and became the first instructor pilot to fly with student pilots while pregnant at an Air Force pilot training base.

“I was 27 weeks pregnant at the time of this flight,” Letourneau said. “Being an instructor pilot is something that I’m very passionate about and being able to have the choice to fly while pregnant is incredibly important to me.”

Thanks to Letourneau and the Women’s Initiative Team, or WIT, groundbreaking change is in the air. The Department of the Air Force clarified policies allowing pregnant aviators the option to return to flying status during all trimesters, with all aircrew positions, and on all types of aircraft, with medical consultation and concurrence.

“When I originally found out that I was pregnant, the published Air Force policy allowed Undergraduate Pilot Training instructor pilots to fly with student pilots,” Letourneau said. “However, I found out later that the Air Force medical waiver guide was worded in a way that made it impossible.

“So originally, I thought the process to receive a waiver allowing me to continue my duties as an IP was going to be nice and easy,” she said. “Then the waiver request was denied, and I decided to reach out to WIT over at the Pentagon for guidance.”

The WIT is an all-volunteer program with over 600 volunteers focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to women's service in the DAF and Department of Defense through policy change.

The WIT analyzes workplace policies and practices, seeking to address root causes that may hinder diversity, equal opportunity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and work to eliminate those barriers.

Previously, the Air Force’s medical waiver guide identified pregnant female instructor pilots as ineligible to fly with unqualified Air Force pilots, which included UPT student pilots. They would instead have to be placed on Duties Not to Include Flying status.

“The WIT team and I were able to get the Air Force medical waiver guide verbiage changed in three and a half months,” said Letourneau. “It was really empowering to be able to see a problem, say something, and find the right team to help you find the solution.”

In fiscal year 2023, the 86th FTS conducted approximately 6,000 flying operations.

With operational statistics similar to this across other UPT squadrons and installations, it is vital for female IPs to have the flexibility to contribute to the instructor mission while pregnant.

“It is important for our instructors to be aware of this new policy change so they can make informed decisions if they become pregnant and know that if they want to start a family the Air Force will work with them without repercussion to their careers,” said Lt. Col. Jackson Ranes, 86th FTS commander.

The new policy will potentially affect pilots across Air Education and Training Command installations, including those at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

“Female instructor pilots are a critical part of the team and this change in policy gives them the flexibility they need to contribute to the mission in a way that is appropriate to their medical needs,” Ranes said. “This flexibility in policy makes the instructor force more inclusive while reducing barriers for our minorities.”

By ensuring Airmen can make informed decisions about their contributions to mission success, the 47th Flying Training Wing and other student pilot training organizations are empowered to create a training environment that allows instructors to confidently manage risk and continue the mission.

“I think inclusivity is imperative to the Air Force’s success; we need to continuously reevaluate policies to remove barriers for all minorities to succeed,” said Letourneau. “In this case, we were able to change policies to ensure that female instructor pilots can remain competitive in their career while simultaneously starting a family if they so choose.”

For more information on related policies, visit https://www.airforcemedicine.af.mil/Reproductive-Health/Aircrew-Pregnancy-and-Voluntary-Acceptance-of-Risk-Policy/#:~:text=What%20are%20my%20options%3F,any%20point%20during%20your%20pregnancy.