Air Canada awards first Captain Judy Cameron Scholarships

Avatar for Andy ClineBy Andy Cline | March 6, 2020

Estimated reading time 14 minutes, 13 seconds.

Judy Cameron blazed a trail for women in aviation as Air Canada’s first female pilot, hired by the airline in 1978 at 23 years of age.

Now, her achievements are being commemorated by Air Canada, which has established a scholarship in her name to assist young women pursuing aviation careers.

2020 Capt Judy Cameron Scholarship winners
The winners of the 2020 Captain Judy Cameron Scholarships are (L-R) Urooj Ali, Olivia White, Rebecca Beylerian and Yasna Taieb. Andy Cline Photo

The first Captain Judy Cameron Scholarships were presented to four deserving recipients on Feb. 19, 2020, at the Air Canada Operations Centre in Brampton, Ont. The winners are all young women ranging in age from 18 to 26, and all are aspiring pilots studying in Ontario and Alberta. Urooj Ali, Rebecca Beylerian, Yasna Taieb and Olivia White will each receive $5,000 towards their aviation studies. All four are currently working on, or have just achieved, their commercial pilot licences.

The winners were officially announced during Women of Aviation Worldwide Week, leading up to International Women’s Day 2020 on March 8.

The scholarship program was unveiled last fall at the 2019 Elsie MacGill Awards Gala, held by the Northern Lights Aero Foundation (NLAF), which recognizes outstanding women in Canadian aviation and aerospace. Air Canada VP of Operations Murray Strom and the award’s namesake, retired Capt Judy Cameron, made a joint announcement at the Sept. 28 gala.

Judy Cameron

The new scholarship is named after NLAF’s 2015 Flight Operations award recipient and current board member, Judy Cameron, who retired from Air Canada as a Boeing 777 pilot in 2015 after 37 years with the airline. As Air Canada’s first female pilot, Cameron accumulated more than 23,000 flying hours over her career. She is only the second woman pilot to be hired at a Canadian airline. Her first flight inspired her to pursue a flying career, the path to which was fraught with challenges and obstacles.

Capt Judy Cameron, centre, celebrates with the recipients of the 2020 scholarships. Andy Cline Photo

She grew up as the only child of a single mother through the 1950s and 1960s. She was the first female to graduate from Selkirk College’s Aviation Technology program in 1975. Cameron has flown the Douglas DC-3, Twin Otter, Hawker Siddeley 748, DC-9, Lockheed L-1011, Airbus 320, and Boeing 767, becoming Air Canada’s first Boeing 777 captain in 2010. After winning the Northern Lights award in 2015, she joined the Foundation, becoming a board member and mentor. She is a proponent of hard work in pursuit of one’s career goals and is a prime example of how struggling to overcoming obstacles can lead to success. She emphasizes how important it is to take pictures of yourself along your career path and keep a journal. It is also important to stop and enjoy the moment as you go through your career. After a long and memorable life in aviation, Cameron feels incredibly honoured that Air Canada has created this scholarship in her name. “When I was learning to fly in 1973, my single mother had limited resources, but she believed in me and encouraged me to pursue my dream. I had a wonderful career as an Air Canada pilot. This scholarship will help other women who might be held back for financial reasons, to pursue their dreams. This scholarship is the best thing that has happened to me in my whole career!”

The scholarship

The Captain Judy Cameron Scholarship recognizes and celebrates the achievements of accomplished women studying in aviation and aerospace. It makes significant financial assistance available to young women enrolled in post secondary aviation flight or maintenance programs. Air Canada has partnered with NLAF and is committed to awarding $20,000 per year for three years. The scholarship is open to young women pursuing aviation careers as pilots or aircraft maintenance engineers. A panel of five judges (two from Air Canada, two from NLAF, and another from elsewhere in the aviation industry) selected the four winners from a field of 113 applicants.

“This scholarship will help other women overcome financial barriers to pursue their dreams, whether flying airplanes or fixing them,” said Cameron. “Thank you to Air Canada for making it possible for me to experience the most amazing career in the world and for encouraging other young women in their passion for aviation. I admire the determination that these four amazing young women have to pursue their flying. Their accomplishments to date are outstanding. One day, I expect to be a passenger on an Air Canada airplane and hear them make the announcement, ‘This is your captain speaking.'”

The winners

Urooj Ali joined the Royal Canadian Air Cadets at the age of 12. She successfully completed the Glider Pilot Scholarship in St. Jean, Que., in 2017 at the age of 16, and became the highest-ranking and sole female cadet with a pilot’s licence.

Urooj Ali

She is currently studying Geography and Aviation at the University of Waterloo and is working toward her commercial pilot licence at Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre. She is a speaker at various events, schools, and conferences raising the awareness of women in aviation. She started a program called Neptune’s Young Optimists, which allows every child from less fortunate communities an equal opportunity for a successful future. “My journey in aviation began at a young age, when I used to look to the sky every time I heard the roar of GENX engines,” said Ali. “I was always curious where the plane was coming from and where it was heading. I was young when I first learned about the lack of interest from women in aviation and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. Since then, it has been my goal to inspire and motivate other young girls to not only enjoy male-dominated industries, but to excel in them.”

Rebecca Beylerian joined Air Cadets at age 12, acquiring her glider pilot and private pilot licences.

She has been living and breathing airplanes since then. She remains an Air Cadet Civilian Instructor and spent the summer of 2019 at the Cold Lake Cadet Training Centre as a Power Familiarization Officer/Supervisor, in charge of overseeing and flying 300 introductory flights.

Rebecca Beylerian

She is carrying on this role in Calgary. Beylerian studied Tourism and Recreation Management but decided she didn’t want a 9 to 5 type of job. She has been a Jazz flight attendant for four years, and is a flight attendant trainer and involved with hiring. She is involved with numerous aviation community organizations, including volunteering with Elevate Aviation, the Ninety-Nines and Women in Aviation, where she is the youngest president of the Alberta Rocky Mountain High Chapter in Calgary. She also volunteers with the Civil Aviation Search and Rescue Association (CASARA). She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Calgary.  She has been flight training part-time for three years and has just completed her commercial pilot licence at Springbank Air Training College. She is a mentee, using women aviators such as Robyn Hadfield as role models and mentors. As the youngest of six children, her family’s resources were spread thin. Her brother is the only other family member involved in aviation; he is an engineer with Harbour Air’s ePlane project. She couldn’t afford to continue flight training, so the scholarship will help her along. Beylerian has learned to be patient. “Aviation is a stubborn passion. My first glider flight sealed my fate. I wanted to be a pilot. My inspiration is the freedom I feel in flight. As a Jazz Aviation employee, my goal is to transition from my current role into a pilot role within the company. My 10-year goal is to be a pilot with Air Canada and represent Canadian aviation across the world. It’s very cool to be able to help others in their careers.”

Yasna Taieb is a first-generation Afghan-Canadian.

Yasna Taieb

She received flight training as an Air Cadet and subsequently became a Canadian Armed Forces reservist, training Air Cadets in ground school at two squadrons. She is currently a second-year aviation student at Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre and Conestoga College. She is a Northern Lights mentee, and a member of the Ninety-Nines. Taieb is co-chair of the Abingdon Foundation Mentorship Program, mentoring women in all phases of life in STEM fields. Through this she wants to help break stereotypes, and help others go beyond traditional female roles. She is a member of the Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. “As an Afghan-Canadian female I am working to bring change to the lives of underrepresented females across Canada,” she said. “I am committed to organizations that promote females in STEM and the aviation industry and strive to become a successful airline pilot. I am so honoured to be a recipient of a scholarship as special as this one, on behalf of a company that I aim to work for!”

Olivia White was attracted to aviation at an early age by a Wii airplane game. At 15 years old, she drove by Spectrum Airways at the Burlington Airpark, where she was quick to start her private pilot training.

Olivia White

She took a co-op program in high school and worked at Spectrum for her co-op term, and was later hired full-time to work on the desk. White is a Northern Lights mentee, a member of the Ninety-Nines and volunteers with Air Canada Rouge for the Girls Take Flight event in Oshawa. She is currently completing a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics Leadership at the University of Windsor and is working on her commercial pilot licence. She hopes to eventually work for Air Canada, but “I’ll happily go wherever the wind takes me. I love flying. But almost as much as I love flying, I love training, continually learning and studying, being evaluated and working with people.”

All of these young women are outstanding in their accomplishments and community involvement. To a person they are all thrilled to be part of the Northern Lights mentorship program and are keen to pass their own knowledge on to others. Although early in their own careers, they are already working to inspire other young women to become aviators. They all look to Cameron as an example of what they can accomplish if they work hard, persist and follow their dreams.

Air Canada and International Women’s Day

Air Canada celebrates the achievements of its female employees on International Women’s Day while also looking ahead to the next generation of women aviators with the inaugural Captain Judy Cameron Scholarship.

“We see diversity as an important strength for a global company like Air Canada. Women here have shattered glass ceilings throughout, holding professional careers ranging from commanding the most sophisticated aircraft globally, overseeing technical, multidisciplinary airline operations, occupying C-suite and the most senior international leadership positions, and in leading and providing customer service,” said Calin Rovinescu, president and CEO at Air Canada. “We proudly salute and celebrate the achievements and contributions of the nearly 16,000 women who work at Air Canada around the world today.

“We actively advance diversity through several initiatives, and we are especially thrilled to champion the next generation of women in non-traditional aviation careers by announcing the winners of the Captain Judy Cameron Scholarship, named in honour of our trailblazing, accomplished first female pilot. Our message to young women is to follow your aviation dreams and know there are rewarding careers for all qualified people.”

Additionally, for the fifth consecutive year, Air Canada featured a flight operated entirely by female pilots and cabin crew, and supported by female maintenance, dispatch, ramp, baggage, customer service and operations teams. Flight AC167 from Toronto to Edmonton on March 5 also made history by being the first transcontinental flight to be guided by all-female Nav Canada Air Traffic Controllers from departure in Toronto to landing in Edmonton.

The Captain Judy Cameron Scholarship Awards will be jointly run by Air Canada and NLAF for at least the next three years.

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