Zoey Williams describes her growth as an inspiring role model for Canadian aviation.
By Kendra Kincade
As the founder of an organization with a mandate to develop gender balance in the aviation industry through education and mentorship, I have been privileged to meet some incredible women who are forging a path in leadership. With the Black Lives Matter movement front and centre in our conversations today, it is important to understand, that while pushing for gender diversity in the aviation industry, we must also develop a voice to advocate for racial diversity.
The lack of women of colour in aviation was never more apparent to me than when I started a search to interview a black female pilot. I called all of my friends and industry contacts. I Googled. Finally, I found someone who could make an introduction. How could I possibly have to search so hard to find a black woman pilot in Canadian aviation?
Well – the digging was worth it because I uncovered a rare gift in Zoey Williams. At age 23, Williams is Caribbean-Canadian woman, who is poised, intelligent, beautiful and – best of all – inspirational. With few role models who looked like her, fighting her way through systemic challenges as a woman of colour in aviation was not easy, but as her father told her, “You have a responsibility to be a role model for other young girls like you. Hold your head high and encourage others to follow their dreams.”
In my commitment to learn more and contribute to the systemic change that must happen, I wanted to dedicate this space to amplify the voices of women of colour in aviation and to hear what someone from the black aviation community has to say about it. In early 2020, Williams was thrilled to be hired at an airline as a pilot on the A321, beginning with the effort to obtain her type rating. As the start date for her simulator training approached, Williams’ schedule was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How did your journey in aviation begin?
Williams: I have been around aviation as a child through my father and living close to a flight-training school. I saw a lot of airplanes flying above the house. At a young age, I had little interest in aviation, but I wanted to become an engineer. After some encouragement from my father, we drove to the airport and I got into a Cessna for an introductory flight lesson. My introductory flight was during a day with some turbulence. I was uncomfortable and there was nothing to hold onto in the airplane. Being so high up made my knees shake and I felt sick to my stomach. Once the engine stopped and we were back on the ground, I thought to myself, “There is no way I am going back up there. You can forget about becoming a pilot!”
I went home and tried to push the experience to the back of my mind, but I could not. That was the first time as a young teenager that I felt paralyzing fear, but I knew this would not be the last time fear would enter my life. So, I had to make a decision to run from it or face it; and I knew this would set the tone for how I dealt with fear in the future. Through the mentorship and advice of my father, I mustered the strength to get back into a Cessna and I promised myself, that no matter what it took, I was going to become a pilot.
How long have you been flying?
I began my flight training in June 2012 and I started flying commercially in 2017.
Did you know you wanted to become an airline pilot from the beginning or where you pursuing other options?
At the beginning of my pursuit of a piloting career, I was only aware of job opportunities at the airline level. However, during my flight training, I obtained a float rating and fell in love with the idea of working in the float industry. I was told that I was too small to find a job in such a physically demanding position, but I was determined. After applying all across Canada in a competitive job market and phoning countless float operators, I was met with rejection after rejection.
During my search for a float position, I was told, that in this industry, having someone vouch for you is important and searching for a job would be difficult without it. Although I kept applying, I continued my pursuit of aviation by obtaining a flight instructor rating. I began flight instructing and continued to build my career in Northern Ontario. As I built rapport and a reputation for being a hard worker, I found more opportunities and even some operators asking if I would consider float flying. However, at that point in my career, I had shifted my focus back to airline flying.
You now work for an international carrier. How exciting does it feel to be training on the Airbus?
I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to fly the Airbus. After getting the phone call about the job offer and I had to remind myself I was not dreaming. Although my type rating is on pause for the time being, I am enthusiastic to return to the flight deck soon.
The world is changing before our very eyes in 2020, initially with COVID 19, but now the Black Lives Matter movement has come to the forefront.
Do you know the percentage of black women pilots in Canada?
This year has undoubtedly challenged many people’s perception of the world we live in. The percentage of black women in aviation is a number I have wanted to know for some time. I have had no luck finding any published data on this specific demographic. I can only speak personally to my experience flying and I have met one other black female pilot working in Canada. I have had the pleasure of meeting other women of colour, who have an interest in flight training or have begun to pursue their training; and I look forward to sharing the flight deck with them in the future.
How do you think we can best increase diversity in aviation?
I believe that diversity in aviation can be increased through outreach and community involvement. I often meet young girls who have said, “I did not know that being a pilot was an option.” Representation is important and we need to encourage young women and minority groups… aviation is an option and a great one too!
Have you faced any racism in aviation; and what can be done to create change?
Yes – I have faced racism in aviation. First and foremost, we have to stand up when we see or hear racism or prejudice. When you hear something inappropriate stand up, say something, and if applicable follow the appropriate chain of reporting. Secondly, mentor young people of all different backgrounds and be involved in all different types of communities. Working together as a cohesive group is how we can create change.
I want this article to be a place to share your voice. What message do you want to share about diversity?
I would like to share that we are all stronger when we support and encourage each other. Now is the time for unity and to reach out to others. This year has been an opportunity to strengthen our understanding of each other and to continue moving forward together. I strongly encourage the idea of mentorship and community outreach to increase inclusion and diversity on all platforms.
Do you believe in the importance of mentorship? What advice can you give to any girls or young women reading this article who may be – for the first time perhaps – considering a career in aviation?
I certainly believe in the importance of mentorship. I have amazing mentors who encouraged and guided me during my career. My mentors have had a huge impact on my life; and I could not imagine my career without them.
The message I have for young women interested in aviation is you can do it and to believe in yourself. Do not let the doubts of others cause you to doubt yourself. You will be met with challenges in this career and I know the feeling of wanting to give up when things are hard, but you have to keep fighting. You are the future and you will have little girls that look up to you to represent them in this field. Wear your uniform with pride. Always study hard and do not believe anyone who tells you that you are incapable.
Kendra Kincade is the founder and director of Elevate Aviation, a non-profit dedicated to inspiring youth to pursue careers in aviation.
Two days of rotary-wing underwater egress training with the Royal Canadian Air Force
As I look around at the people strapped in beside me, I think one thought before I’m flipped upside down underwater, “I’m not ready to die.” The water rushes in around my feet and I take a huge breath and hold it in as the helicopter spins, driving us all underwater.
I never imagined I would one day find myself in this position – but here I am. I have joined a group of six military members of the Royal Canadian Air Force on a Rotary Wing Underwater Egress Training (RUET) course. The company providing this extreme training to our team is RelyOn Nutec, which sells its simulators all over the world. We are taking our training where the company was founded, Halifax, NS.
All military members who work on a helicopter have to take the RUET course. Over the course of two days, we learn how important this training is in order to increase the likelihood of any possible survival in the event of ditching a helicopter. The training is broken up into two parts: The mornings in the classroom and the afternoons in the simulator.
The classroom covers several lessons, including (1) hazards of overwater operations; (2) what to expect in the rollover phase; (3) the importance of proper equipment; (4) how much time you may have to prepare in the event of an emergency that results in ditching; and (5) threats and survival facts. On day two we learn about potential complications with getting snagged underwater, training approaches, cold-water effects, and scenario briefings. All this information was strategically designed for one thing: To prepare us for what was about to come.
The simulator I walk into the simulator and look around. It’s housed in a huge cement pool with a crane dangling the body of a helicopter in the air over the middle of the pool. The lights are on, the pool is calm. It looks innocent enough.
The training is designed to build egress skills one step at a time. Step one turns out to be educating us on what it would feel like if we landed in cold water. They suit us up and dunk us into what they affectionately refer to as the hot tub, which is kept at a balmy 4-degrees Celsius. Ever wonder what that feels like – ice water. It feels like freezing cold ice water. Our instructor said that this course builds transferable skills, but I think this skill must be if you want to prepare for a polar bear dive.
Once the tub activity is complete, we jump into the pool to start our egress training. They teach us how to breathe through the emergency breathing system (EBS), essentially is a cylinder filled with pure air supplied through a mouthpiece. We then lay in our instructor’s arms so he can promptly dump us upside down and backwards under the water. Learning to flush and breath through your EBS upside down is a whole new skill – and it hurts. This pain is a prelude of what’s to come. After preparing in the pool, it’s time to go live in the helicopter.
We watch, some with a little anxiety, as the helicopter lowers down to water level allowing us to climb in. I look over at the two scuba divers who will jump in the water ahead of us. They are here to watch us and help out if we struggle. It makes me feel a bit better. This is how I come to find myself strapped in a seat watching water flood around me.
I start spinning sideways and I see the water flood the pilots a second before it rushes over me. The painful burning fills my nose immediately and I am completely disorientated. Okay, what am I supposed to do? I need to follow the directions from my instructor. I wait until we stop moving, knock out the window with my elbow, place my hand on the windowsill, so I know where to exit, unbuckle my seatbelt with the other hand, and escape! As I surface that first time I’m in a bit of shock. I did it. The pain in my nose and sinuses is harsh, but the thrill of completing the activity outweighs it all. I look around and see everyone else popping up as well. We all survived.
The scenarios get more and more intense over the two days. Mastering the EBS is important because the instructors add hazards and obstructions forcing people to stay under longer. During the last run, I’m amazed at how far we have come. This time I’m sitting on the helicopter and trying to look around. It’s dark now and hard to see, but I know one person is sitting on the side with a gun, another is on his knees by the side door. The pilots in the front have to work around scenarios designed to trip them up. I look sideways and see the waves pounding in the pool below. It really looks like we are in the ocean, with the sound of booming thunder. Lighting is flashing through the sky as the rain pounds down. This time, finally, I’m excited to go under. I know it’s the last run and I’m trained enough to know exactly what to do.
I see the water rush up and I’m not filled with dread. I do what I have been trained to do. Upon surfacing, I feel strong winds hit my face and the waves are crashing over me. I hear yelling. The pilots are calling to us from the front of the helicopter. I start swimming over to them but I’m very slow in the waves. All of a sudden, I feel myself being pulled quickly to the group. As soon as I am within reach, a member of our team grabbed my vest and pulled me toward them. ‘One!” I hear yelled out through the storm, followed by, “Two! Three! Four!”. “Five!” I yell quickly, proud to be a here with them. I feel like part of this team now and that indeed they would leave no man behind.
The jump As a reward for all our hard work, we get to jump off a 15-foot platform into the raging, tempestuous water. From below I look up and think, easy! Then we climbed up. I watch as one team member after another jumps exactly as instructed into the water and swims to the raft. Hands crossed on their chest, looking straight ahead, crossing their ankles as they jump. They are so impressive to watch. They look exactly as you might imagine them to be – professional, strong, brave, well trained military members of the RCAF. I’m going to jump just like them, I think to myself waiting in line for my turn, which comes all too quickly. I go to the edge and get ready to jump. I can’t. My body won’t go. My heart is pounding and I can feel it in my ears. I am so scared. I don’t want to do this. I know I have to. I can’t walk away no matter how much I want to. I attempt it again.
The instructor behind me is yelling at me, “We’re going down! Jump! The helicopter is going down!” I look down and see my team in the water, the wind is blowing so strong, whipping water in their faces. They are hanging onto each other, waiting for me. I have to go. I try again but my body won’t do it. I actually want to cry because I’m so mad at myself. Faintly, and then louder, I hear my name being chanted from below. They are calling my name, cheering me on even while they are being thrown around by the waves. They are not inflating the raft yet; they are going to wait for me. I can’t make them wait any longer. I jump.
I want to say I was as professional and looked just like they did but that would be a lie. It was not pretty. I would describe it as more of a flailing around jump with arms and legs waving about, perhaps made even more distressing by the unintended scream that belted from my body. I smacked into the water, swam to the team as fast as I could, and link arms with them. They waited for me. They are my team. I truly believe they would leave no man behind.
Back in the class for wrap-up I ask Capt. Susan Ireson if she thought the course was fun. “Absolutely not,” she says and we all laugh. “I’m thankful for the training. I really am because I’m not sure what I would have done in a real ditching. But truly, there is not a single part of this I enjoyed.” Maj. Martin Jean had a different point of view, “Actually, I do enjoy it because it’s in a safe environment with divers all around, so I can try some things that might make me more comfortable in a ditching.”
Whether you like this training on not, everyone is much more likely to survive an underwater ditching should they ever be in one. This course has allowed me to be exposed to a part of what our Canadian military members in the RCAF go through; and to have the opportunity to gain another level of understanding of just how much the military members put their lives on the line to serve our country. I salute you all.
Being an honorary member of the military, I didn’t know how I would be received on this course. I didn’t know if the people on the course would welcome me or if they would think that I was in the way of their training. Now that it is complete, I want to say thank you to the brave and strong military members who became my team for two days. Thank you for looking out for me like you do for each other. By simply being yourselves, you have given me a gift to be able to experience the military loyalty, dedication, teamwork and perseverance.
Tara Foss of Black Swan Helicopters describes how pilots adjust roles with the time of the season
COVID-19 struck the aviation industry hard. Turmoil and uncertainly have many people worried about their future and the pandemic has created a change for almost everyone in the industry. So many aviation professionals are facing layoffs while others are working from home. Still others are out there fighting on the front line, like the pilots and flight attendants who are risking their health to ensure others make it home safely.
Tara Foss is in a different situation. She is not looking at being laid off or even slowing down. She is just gearing up for the Spring activities of many helicopter pilots. With all the craziness around us, it is important to not lose sight of the essential role that helicopter operations play across the country.
Foss is the chief pilot for Black Swan Helicopters which is based out of Berwyn, a village in northwestern Alberta located approximately 35 kilometres west of the Town of Peace River. The 2016 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada pegs Berwyn’s population at 526. Black Swan provides flight services for the oil-and-gas industry, wildlife managers and regional firefighters, as well as commercial charter services throughout Western Canada. Led by president Linda Johnson, the company was founded in 2002 and it is also a Transport Canada approved AMO, providing service for Robinson, Bell and Airbus helicopters.
In the colder months For half of the year, Foss is helping to fight wildfires while the other half of the year is primarily spent either surveying animals or in the mountains. Every winter, surveys are conducted to count moose, deer, caribou, and sometimes bison (depending on budgets). Helicopter companies like Black Swan are primarily hired for these services through contracts with the government of Alberta.
Working with biologists, Foss flies grid patterns so that they can look out both sides of the helicopter and literally count the animals they see, while also determining their gender. One way they do this is by looking for a white patch to see if the moose is female. They are doing this to get an accurate count to know the number of animals in the region.
The Bell 206 helicopter flies a couple hundred feet above the ground allowing for viewing out the bubble window – male, female, juvenile, standing, laying down, the biologists have a set list of things to keep track of. The surveying typically runs between January and February depending on the weather and depth of snow. There are several helicopters up at the same time to ensure they are not recounting the animals and so that it’s done in the same temperature and conditions.
This year Foss also spent much of her winter at Silvertip Lodge where she flew helicopters for a heli-skiing operation. It was her first year in this role and she loved the experience, describing it as the most challenging flying she has ever done. Her job was to fly the Bell 206 support helicopter. In this role, she did weather checks, flew snow safety guides and picked up skiers that were either hurt or too tired to finish their skiing down the mountain. She also flew guides up to the weather station or repeater to check or repair them. It’s important that the weather equipment stays in working order as it transmits information like temperature and conditions back to the lodge. The repeater is used for guides and pilots to relay their position and any problems back to the lodge.
In the warmer months As for her firefighting role, the Spring season typically starts in April when forestry workers can access locations. A typical worker will be flown into a forestry lookout tower mid-April and may stay there all summer, coming out sometime in late August or September. Foss is also one of the many pilots responsible for taking care of the tower people while they are stationed in place. Groceries, water, mail, anything they need is flown in on a regular basis ensuring their comfort and survival.
Foss and her co-workers are often assigned to a Helitack (HAC) crew. This means they are on call with a five-minute time limit to be airborne if a call comes in from dispatch. If no smokes are called in, the crew will usually go out on loaded patrols. The helicopter will often fly with a full load of firefighters – just in case they spot something on patrol. They receive their map from Peace River forestry and patrol for smoke. If smoke is spotted, a crew leader will make the decision if they can contain the fire or if they need to call for more resources.
Foss is the only female pilot with her company and I asked her why she thought more women were not helicopter pilots. “Probably lifestyle – I don’t know if many women want to be in the bush and rolling 45-gallon drums of fuel. You can be sitting in 35-degree weather with the bugs or, in the winter, it can be freezing in -35 degree weather. Not everyone wants to do that,” says Foss. “All that being said, I wouldn’t trade what I am doing for anything in the world. I love it. It’s a feeling of freedom when you are flying. I don’t know how to describe it… I just feel free when I’m in the air. It’s where I belong.”
Sophia Wells is used to hearing “no.” Now, she uses her history with that word to inspire hundreds of women and young girls to consider the male-dominated world of aviation as a career path.
When she was a senior in high school and a successful air cadet, Wells applied to join the Canadian Forces but was turned down over a poor score on a surprise test. She thought her dreams of flying would remain just that.
“I was crushed. At 17 I was wondering what I was going to do. Coming from a small town, I had no idea how pilots go about becoming pilots. I thought it was military or bust,” Wells says.
While attending Mount Royal and taking general studies, a chance encounter with the school’s flight simulator ended up putting Wells back on track to becoming a pilot.
During her first year of the demanding aviation program, Wells experienced another setback. She had still not completed her private licence due to challenging weather and was in danger of having to leave.
“I’m sitting in front of this board thinking ‘Here I go, I’m going to be out again,’ ” Wells says.
“The board members were really awesome, though. They said I’d probably had the worst luck with weather they’d seen in forever, so they encouraged me to just keep trying and I said I’d find a way.”
Wells would go on to become a flight instructor with the Edmonton Flying Club, completing her Class One instructor rating at the age of 25, one of the youngest in Canada to do so.
Passionate about flying, Wells is also the director of advocacy at Elevate Aviation and is now the club’s chief flying instructor. The Edmonton-based not-for-profit organization promotes gender balance in the industry.
“I just want to provide this idea that the world is open to them,” Wells says of the women and young girls who are part of the Flight Path to Success mentorship program she runs for Elevate.
The program consists of more than 400 mentees and 150 mentors. The professional women in aviation share their passion with mentees and offer advice about how to succeed in the industry.
Additionally, Wells organizes week-long tour sessions in 21 cities across Canada, giving women, girls and members of Indigenous communities a behind-the-scenes look into aviation and the various career paths it offers.
Her refusal to take “no” as a final answer has allowed Wells to inspire hundreds of women.
In 2018, Wells was named to Wings magazine’s Top 20 Under 40: Agent of Change. In 2019, she is Mount Royal University’s Outstanding Alumni Award recipient.
Elevate Aviation’s 2019 Inspire Gala was held in Edmonton, Alta., on Oct. 26, 2019. Eight women who epitomize the word ‘inspire’, while simultaneously holding a lack of regard for the word ‘limit’, were celebrated in tandem with Elevate Aviation’s newfound partnership with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
This was Elevate Aviation’s sixth gala, and with nearly 400 guests in attendance, it was the most successful one yet. The purpose of Inspire is three-fold: to feature eight inspirational women in aviation who have broken barriers to achieve their dreams; to showcase amazing careers that many people don’t even know exist; and for Elevate Aviation to raise funds for national programs, including mentorship, bursaries, tours and the Elevate Aviation Learning Centre.
Elevate Aviation’s mission is to help women thrive and succeed through aviation. The aviation industry is facing massive shortages and by sharing how fantastic a career in aviation can be, it is not only inspiring women to look at the careers for their own economic security, but also helping the industry at the same time by introducing the other half of the Canadian population to an industry they have typically never thought of before.
As guests entered the Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel lobby, they were greeted with a welcome drink and an invitation to walk through interactive displays of the Elevate Aviation Learning Centre. The displays included trying on fighter pilot gear with the RCAF, creating your very own airplane key chain with Canadian North’s rivet machine, and much more!
Fundraising efforts included wine raffle baskets, close to 100 silent auction items, and a Sparkle and Fly raffle draw with ten chances to win jewelry from Hillberg & Berk and a grand prize of a WestJet gift of flight!
The ballroom doors opened, and the room was buzzing when the sound of a piper filled the room. He made his way to the stage and the lights went dark. Then, the banging of drums filled the air and a drumline of four soldiers captivated the crowd with their performance. The glow from their drumsticks lit the room. This was the kick-off to the evenings program. The obvious military tribute and presence in the room was to celebrate the brand new official partnership between Elevate Aviation and the RCAF.
Kendra Kincade, Elevate Aviation founder and emcee for the evening, started the show. The program itself profiled eight inspirational women in the form of videos. The videos tell their stories and highlight their careers. This year the crowd heard from senior legal counsel for Nav Canada, a commercial pilot, a fighter pilot, an air traffic controller, a ramp agent, a businesswoman, a citizen scientist astronaut candidate, and an Royal Canadian Mounted Police helicopter pilot. These women were chosen in January after an application/nomination process took place, and travelled from all across Canada to take part.
Following the program, guests enjoyed delicious hors d’ouerves and fantastic entertainment by a live music duo Cross Parallel, who had guests on their feet all evening.
The breathtaking aviation décor combined with the inspirational messaging and loads of entertainment truly made this gala Canada’s aviation event of the year!
Laura Foote, age 34, served in the artillery branch of the Canadian Armed Forces for 13 years. After moving to Edmonton from the East Coast, she became instrumental in the development of Elevate Aviation, a non-profit designed to inspire youth to join the world of aviation, with an emphasis on mentoring young women. She took on many of the administrative roles during Elevate’s quick rise, including her work on grant proposals that secured approximately $700,000 in funding over the past two years.
“We now have a couple hundred women in the mentorship program. As of last year, we estimated that we have reached about 5,000 people [primarily through cross-country tours] in previous years; and this year alone we are probably going to double that,” Foote says. With its growth, Elevate is starting an ambassador program to develop provincial leadership. This will also help in the group’s goal to open more learning centres across the country, after starting up its first such centre at Edmonton International Airport earlier this year.
Foote also began training as an air traffic controller in 2015 and took her place in the Edmonton control tower focusing on high-artic routes. Foote is currently leading Elevate’s Status of Women Project, which involves the primary grant from the Federal government, as well as Elevate’s branding, Website and the annual fundraising gala.
417 Combat Support Squadron (417 CS Sqn) at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta., is a relatively small entity within the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), but both its mission and its staffing composition are unique.
The squadron is tasked with operating three hoist-equipped Bell CH-146 Griffon helicopters to provide search and rescue (SAR) services for the area in general, as well as to support 4 Wing’s three squadrons of Boeing CF-188 Hornets and one of BAE Systems CT-155 Hawk lead-in jet trainers while they are training over the densely-forested range.
The people who perform that critical mission are led by a rare trio of female leaders, including the squadron’s commanding officer (CO), deputy CO (DCO) and honorary colonel (HCol). Add to that a squadron aerospace engineering maintenance officer (SAMEO), and women account for nearly nine per cent of the squadron’s 46 personnel.
In addition to six pilots, 417 CS Sqn has four flight engineers, 27 maintenance technicians, a SAR technician and three medical technicians. One of those pilots is the CO, Maj Alexia Hannam, an 18-year RCAF veteran who flew combat missions in Boeing Chinook D models in Afghanistan, when she was with Edmonton-based 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron. Her DCO is Capt Eileen Sudul, the only other multi-tour pilot in the squadron.
Her HCol, invested earlier this year, is Kendra Kincade, an Edmonton-based Nav Canada air traffic controller and founder of Elevate Aviation, a not-for-profit organization that tries to enhance opportunities for women in aviation overall by creating “inclusive work environments.”
The SAMEO is Capt Alex Longfield, who came “highly recommended” from the maritime helicopter community at Shearwater, N.S.
“This was definitely not to fill quotas,” replied Hannam when Skies asked how her leadership team became so female-dominated. “This just happened organically; there was nothing formalized about it, and I should point out that my chief warrant officer is male, master warrant officer Derek Stratton.”
Hannam, who majored in psychology at Royal Military College, said Sudul’s experience meant she was a logical fit for the senior captain’s role. Squadron commanders do have some say in postings, but Sudul was already at 417 CS Sqn when Hannam was confirmed as CO.
But she definitely had a say in Kincade’s appointment. “Kendra was a clear frontrunner and the only one I had in mind for the nomination,” said Hannam.
Kincade chuckled, saying she couldn’t believe the idea at first. “That has to go through high-level approvals,” including the Minister of National Defence. “It’s an absolutely incredible honour,” she added, sounding bashful. “I’m just so proud to be able to represent our military.”
LGen Al Meinzinger, the RCAF’s overall commander whom she first met in May, gave his formal blessing to the relationship with Kincade and Elevate Aviation in June.
The two women’s strong bond is rooted in Hannam’s involvement over several years with Elevate. In separate interviews, they shared a conviction that aviation remains relatively untapped by women.
“We’re finding that women are not aware of it,” said Kincade. “Teachers are not aware of it; students are not aware . . . So, we’re working with Nav Canada, Air Canada Jazz, Transport Canada, CCAA (Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace) and a whole bunch of industry partners on a campaign for all of us to kind of flood Canada with aviation awareness . . . over the next 12 months.”
Hannam echoed that the following day, pointing out that 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of women being able to do any job in the Canadian Armed Forces. That said, she still encounters girls and young women at airshows who seem unaware of opportunities not only in the RCAF but also within civil aviation. Hence her willingness to be a mentor when her RCAF role permits.
“My chain of command is always very supportive,” she said. “I’ll never turn down a school tour and we have a lot of groups and organizations that request a squadron tour. As long as we have a helicopter in house, I will always say yes.”
Given that 417 CS Sqn is a relatively small unit, it’s not surprising that Hannam — who has 2,500 hours logged – still puts in significant flight time. Crews are on one-hour standby whenever jets are in the air and 12 hours at all other times.
“I generally fly several times a week, sometimes twice a day,” she said.
While Griffon pilots must fly at least 50 hours every six months to remain current, she and the others typically fly 250 to 300 hours annually in 4 Wing’s busy operational environment.
Hannam, who has wanted to fly ever since she can remember, discovered in high school that she could learn for free if she joined the RCAF. So she joined Air Cadets when she was 17, hoping to be streamed into fighters. She said she is underweight for the Hornet ejection seat. During her early training, she put on 25 pounds by consuming five meals a day plus rich milkshakes, but even that wasn’t enough.
Following basic pilot training, she was selected for rotary-wing operations.
“The Chinook is an absolutely incredible machine, but I lived for eight years apart from my husband, so it was time to try living together,” she explained. “That’s the only reason I didn’t want to go onto the new F models in Petawawa (at 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron).”
For Kincade, a significant fringe benefit of having four shoulder bars on her RCAF blues is the opportunity to fly with her friend, most recently on July 1 when she got to fly the Canadian flag from the Griffon.
A single mother of four and former teenage runaway who later found her passion in air traffic control (ATC), Kincade noted that “those who fly, just like in air traffic control, have a passion for it.”
She said ATC “basically saved my life” by giving her confidence in her own abilities and now, as with Hannam, it’s payback time.
Kincade’s main role within 417 CS Sqn is essentially that of a morale booster, turning out for squadron family days and meeting with squadron wives who may be facing challenges when their spouses are away, often for months at a time.
“The flip side of that is trying to bring more awareness to the public about what the military does and hopefully attract more people to the military.”
Hannam, meanwhile, said she doesn’t necessarily try to sell only the RCAF as a career. “I just try to tell people to find their passion and then find a way to get paid to do it . . . I just want them to be inspired to do anything they set their minds to. By being passionate and excited about what I do, it bleeds off. There are a lot of really cool jobs out there and if people don’t know they exist, they’re not going to go after them. That’s what we want to highlight.”
Canadian aviation magazine Wings has recognized a helicopter pilot from Newfoundland and Labrador as one of the most inspiring young leaders in Canadian aviation and aerospace.
Aviation’s Top 20 Under 40 has listed only five women, and one of them is 29-year-old Allison Rumbolt of Mary’s Harbour.
Rumbolt was nominated by one of her Cougar Helicopters colleagues earlier this year, and chosen by Wings based on her “demonstration of leadership, innovation, influence, achievement and dedication shown to the Canadian aviation industry.”
“It was a surprise,” she said. “It was an honour to be nominated, but about three or four weeks ago I actually made the list, so it was quite the honour.”
Rumbolt went to flight school as soon as she could — at age 17 — and started flying when she was just 18 years old.
“My love for aviation began as a very small kid growing up in southern Labrador,” she said.
“Both my parents worked in the industry. My mom was part-time with the local airline and my dad was the airport operator there, so I spent most of my downtime at the airport with them and the passion just grew from there.”
Rumbolt pilots a Cougar S92 helicopter to and from Newfoundland’s offshore oil rigs.
She said her profession had the potential to take her anywhere in the world, but she chose to stay home.
“I had a dream at a very young age,” she said. “I pursued it, and today I’m here with the career I [always] dreamed of.”
In addition to flying offshore, Rumbolt works as an ambassador with Elevate Aviation; a non-profit organization that promotes gender diversity in the skies, with hopes of inspiring women to seek out careers in aviation.
With Elevate, she gets the opportunity to showcase helicopters to the public, take children inside the cockpit and show them how all the gadgets work.
“Kids are very interested,” she said. “You don’t really get a chance to get up-close and personal with an aircraft this size, so when you bring them down and show them an S92, people are impressed by it.”
Rumbolt took part in Elevate’s nationwide tour this year, and its stop in Goose Bay, not far from her hometown, hosted the biggest crowd.
“It’s rewarding,” she said. “I’d recommend this career to anybody — male or female.”
With files from Ashley Brauweiler Source: CBC News
I am writing this article on a flight with First Air to the rugged, strong, beautiful arctic tundra of Iqaluit. I am full of excitement as I embark upon a new adventure – travelling to Nunavut. There is one reason I am on this journey, a reason that encompasses many elements, and that reason is Elevate Aviation.
Elevate Aviation was born from a desire to help women find lives they love through an avenue they most likely never considered – aviation. Beginning with an aviation calendar, Elevate Aviation has turned into so much more. Realizing a need to bring women together in the industry, a mentorship program was formed, followed by involvement in community events, speaking engagements in schools and organizations, bursaries, the ‘Economic Security for Women through Aviation’ project (ESWA), the Elevate Aviation Learning Centre, and the Cross-Country Tour.
It is the Cross-County Tour that takes us to remote Iqaluit. In 2014, we brought a group of young women to the Edmonton Airport and created a day to take them on a tour inside the industry. When we put that day together, we had no idea that five years later we would have the Cross-Country Tour which now lands in 20 locations, including every province and territory in Canada, in a span of one week each year. This project requires a huge amount of organization and a ton of support from industry partners and volunteers, but it is totally worth all the effort when we see the results of young women looking at us and asking, ‘Why have we never heard of these careers before?’.
The annual Cross-Country Tour allows attendees to spend the day with women in the industry, hear inspirational stories o their journeys into aviation, and to visit their workplaces to see firsthand why they love their jobs. These are all-day events, beginning with a morning of inspirational and passionate speakers, followed by behind-the-scenes tours of airports, aircraft hangars, air traffic control towers and centres, and more.
Participants in the Cross-Country Tour are offered a mentor from our mentorship program. This program is called ‘Elevate Aviation’s Flight Path to Success’ and is a five-tier mentorship program that provides support to women either looking to get into aviation or already in aviation who want to connect with successful women in the field. This approach helps introduce a ‘try before you buy’ experience for those looking at aviation for the first time and also supports women who are already in the field.
We now have over 90 mentors from coast to coast and over 400 mentees currently in the program, which include a number from our military mentorship program as well. Three tiers are currently active with the final two planned to launch in September, which will allow current mentors to grow their mentoring skills, as well as a 10 week masterclass.
Elevate Aviation’s bursary program is for women in Canada who show exceptional potential and need financial assistance throughout training. Since 2015 we have awarded over $15,000.
Each year we host the Inspire Gala, profiling 8-12 women in aviation across Canada, showcasing their aviation careers. These truly inspiring women, will join a network of support in the industry, characteristically by becoming speakers and mentors in our programs. Prior to the big event, we spend a weekend together filming their feature video, taking part in a photo shoot, and bonding as a group. This year’s Inspire Gala will be held in Edmonton on October 26, 2019, and the funds raised will support Elevate Aviation’s programs.
The launch of the Elevate Aviation Learning Centre is central to our mission to provide the most authentic, memorable, and life-changing aviation experience possible, and to ignite passion for the industry. The Elevate Aviation Learning Centre immerses students and the general public in rich, week-long experiences using the resources and expertise at the Edmonton International Airport and surrounding sites through collaboration with education, business, and industry partners. We are currently looking for more partners to help take this experience across Canada, including Canada’s northern communities.
Creating Economic Security for Women through Aviation (ESWA), is a nationwide project devoted to discovering why women are not pursuing aviation as a career for economic security. We connected with nearly 6,000 Canadians, inside and outside of the industry, to understand the barriers women face, so that we can create a multifaceted strategy to dismantle them.
Growing Elevate Aviation over the past few years has been equally exciting, rewarding, and challenging. It could never have happened without our team, who are fueled by the passion to make a difference. Currently, with a board of nine, a volunteer executive team of 10, and a considerable group of volunteers across the country, we have grown to the point that we have now started an ambassador program. Our ambassador program will provide opportunity to rising stars in the industry who wish to develop and showcase their skills, while also facilitating Elevate Aviation’s growth and meeting the demands of awareness activities across Canada. We are currently accepting applications for these rewarding volunteer positions, if you would like to get involved.
As I finish writing this article, we prepare to land. I look out of the aircraft window and I dream of what we will discover in this mysterious part of Canada. I anticipate the remote community with its rugged terrain and friendly people. I envision the team of women I travel with speaking about their lives and careers, illuminating pathways in the community for those we inspire to pursue aviation. I think of our team across Canada, as they embark upon their own journeys with our Cross-Country Tour and await their unique stories. Above all, I am excited for this adventure we share and look forward to wherever else Elevate Aviation wants to take us.
A learning centre opening at Edmonton International Airport early next year will include a program focused on drawing young women into the aviation industry.
The program will help girls and women ages 15 to 24 find opportunities in the industry and connect with employers.
It’s the first program of its kind in Canada, the learning centre’s founder said Wednesday.
“There’s a huge shortage in the aviation industry right now,” said Kendra Kincade, an air-traffic controller and founder of Elevate Aviation.
“We personally want to help women succeed and offer careers where they can have economic security.”
Women are under-represented in Canada’s aviation industry. Fewer than five per cent of commercial pilots are women. Sixteen per cent of air traffic controllers are women. Women make up 11 per cent of aerospace engineers, Kincade said.
Kincade expects hands-on learning may get young women interested in aviation when they enrol.
They will be able to “actually sit and play at a radar screen and let them practice being an air traffic controller,” Kincade said. “Let them get in behind the actual scenes of the airport and I think that will just ignite some excitement.”
Syona McClean, a pilot for the past decade, currently flies a 737 for Canadian North. McClean is planning to be one of the mentors involved in the centre’s program for women.
She’s proud to be a female pilot.
“There’s not too many of us out there,” McClean said. “You see a few more now. It’s pretty amazing. You get to be one of the few females that are working in aviation in a male-dominated industry and you know what? The guys treat you like one of the guys and it’s pretty awesome.”
She said it wasn’t easy to become a pilot, and thinks prospective employees will benefit from the new program.
“When I was younger it would have been nice, for sure, to have a learning centre where I could go up and say, ‘Hey, what am I getting myself into?”
The Elevate Aviation Learning Centre will be located in a hangar next to the Edmonton International Airport. It’s expected to open in March.