Estimated reading time 18 minutes, 33 seconds.
Last week, aviation ambassadors opened hangar doors and air traffic control centers across the country, escorting girls onto tarmacs and runways in an effort to inspire young females to see themselves in the various exciting roles that the aviation industry has to offer.
From March 14 to 24, Elevate Aviation’s team of passionate female aviators made their way across British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
As the industry faces personnel shortages, Elevate Aviation (an Edmonton-based not-for-profit) zigzagged across Canada with a team of females driven by one goal: to empower others.
“The cross-country tour is one of our most important programs,” said Kendra Kincade, president and CEO of Elevate Aviation. “When young girls see women as pilots, air traffic controllers, engineers, and mechanics, they then start to picture themselves in that career.”
According to Elevate, “fewer than five percent of all airline transport pilot license holders are female. Female mechanics make up less than two percent of mechanics worldwide, and women hold only 15 percent of jobs as air traffic controllers in Canada.”
Skies attended the Ontario leg of the tour, visiting both the Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF) and Canadian Forces Base Trenton (8 Wing) events.
The full-day events, which were free to girls aged 12 to 18, included guest speakers chosen to demonstrate the variety of roles available to women in aviation, such as pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, airport operations personnel, and aircraft maintenance engineers (AME). The days were filled with tours and demonstrations of airport facilities, air traffic control (ATC) towers, aircraft hangars, static aircraft displays, fire halls, wildlife control, and flight schools.
Elevate ambassador and team lead for the YKF event, Jessalyn Teed, became part of the organization as a student through a mentorship program. She told Skies that her desire to pay forward the mentorship she received brought her back as an ambassador.
Teed, a Boeing 737-800 first officer and collegiate engagement liaison with Sunwing, said she is able to continue her work with Elevate due to her employer’s flexibility and support.
“Sunwing has been very supportive in my endeavors in advocating for women in aviation, as well as my passion for engagement with our partnering schools and future recruits,” she shared.
YKF was visited by 65 grade six students from a local school. In addition, over 20 volunteers, who Teed refers to as “behind-the-scenes heroes,” were on site to lead each station.
The “highlight of the day” (for the participants and volunteers alike) was a Piper Arrow formation flyover and a hover pass by a helicopter, which eventually landed, allowing the kids to board and check out the interior.
“We reached out to the Region of Waterloo COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association) chapter,” said Teed. “They executed an awesome fly-by, doing three passes overhead the students on runway 26. Two Piper Arrows flew in formation with a Zenair trailing behind.”
She added: “YKF has been home for so many of my passion projects [including flight training at Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre (WWFC), along with] empowering young people in the industry [through] volunteering for [events such as] Girls Can Fly.
“This is what drew me to leading and hosting the event, wanting to extend our reach to a local school and share both this place and this industry. Everyone from the region to the flight center and beyond has been so instrumental in making this day happen; it was so special to pull in others who hold CYKF as their place of work and share the passion of inviting others into this industry with the heart to share their passion, encouragement, and empowerment,” she concluded.
Teed also shared with Skies that the response from attendees has been enthusiastic gratitude for the exclusive look inside the world of aviation — a response that no doubt fuels this aviator’s passion to keep inspiring.
“Sunwing has fully supported and encouraged me in taking bigger steps and making bigger moves in showing our support and desire to empower underrepresented groups in our industry,” she said. “I am so excited to be tasked with this as it is heart-led all the way.”
Skies caught up with Elevate’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Emily Reiman, who was also on-site as co-director of the tour. She shared that it’s the organization’s ambition to showcase “incredible women in the aviation industry” to help youth “envision what their futures could look like.”
This year marked Elevate’s 7th cross-country tour (with a small hiatus due to pandemic restrictions). Also, 2023 was the first year Canadian Forces bases joined the tour, including CFB Winnipeg, CFB Gander, CFB Goose Bay, and CFB Trenton.
On the second-last day of the two-week tour, Skies experienced the hospitality of CFB Trenton, Canada’s largest Air Force Base, hosted by RCAF Capt Samantha Behm, pilot/squadron readiness officer, 436 Transport Squadron.
“These types of events are important to me because women are only a small fraction of the workforce in the RCAF,” she told Skies. “For example, the pilot, as a trade, is only six percent females, and I am currently the only active flying female J Hercules pilot in the RCAF. So, representation matters.”
Operating the CC-130J Hercules since 2018, Behm shared her affection for Elevate Aviation’s mandate and her role as an RCAF and 8 Wing mentor within the organization.
“It was important to me for the [cross-county] tour to showcase some of the non-traditional or lesser-known aviation career options in the military, and I think we achieved that with my team of volunteers.
“I had a team of 10 volunteers, and all of them should be celebrated,” she added.
The morning included presentations by an Air Combat Systems Officer, a pilot, an ATC officer, Cathie Puckering (vice president and head, Canadian Network at Vantage Airport Group), and access to 426 Squadron’s CC-130J simulators and CC130J fuselage trainer. After lunch, the girls were greeted by static displays on the north ramp, a tour of the ATC tower and terminal, and an airfield falcon demonstration.
As the girls boarded aircraft such as the CC-177 Globemaster II, CC-130J and H-model Hercules, CH-146 Griffon, and CC-150 Polaris — as well as CFB Trenton Fire Service’s fire crash response truck — they were greeted by various crew members who shared personal experiences and anecdotes, answering all questions.
Behm told Skies she was most impressed with the level of engagement she witnessed in the girls.
“This was a very unique opportunity for them to tour the military base and its assets, but also speak to those who work in the aviation industry,” she observed, adding that “the biggest obstacle planning any event at 8 Wing is the operational tempo. Finding a balance between what we had access to see and experience while ensuring we are still executing the missions for the day [was a challenge].”
When all is said and done, the effort’s success lies on the backs of over 300 volunteers, 80 speakers, and 21 location hosts — to the benefit of over 1,000 students nationwide.
Going forward, Behm shared that she hopes the enthusiasm she witnessed is not short-lived, even if it leads to “just one student [feeling] motivated and encouraged to pursue a career in this amazing industry, whether it be military or the civilian world.”