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How women AMEs are busting stereotypes and changing the conversation 

By Ben Forrest | March 8, 2024

Estimated reading time 11 minutes, 25 seconds.

Slave Lake Helicopters AME Marianne Pelletier does routine inspection on an Airbus H125. Heath Moffatt Photo

There were only three girls in Lindsay Murphy’s high school aircraft maintenance classes in Winnipeg in the late 2000s, and their teacher treated them no different than the boys.  

As a result, Murphy developed a healthy dose of bravado about her potential as an aircraft maintenance engineer (AME); it never occurred to her the career was out of reach. 

“It’s like naïveté,” said Murphy, now a seasoned aircraft engineer and AME Ambassador for Elevate Aviation, an Edmonton-based non-profit focused on attracting women and other underrepresented groups to aviation.  

“I was always told I could just do whatever, and I had a great teacher,” she said.  

“It wasn’t until I got in the industry that everyone asked me questions about being an AME based on my gender … but it was good mentorship, and just believing that I could, that kept me in the industry.” 

Lindsay Murphy, participating in a past edition of the Aerospace Maintenance Council (AMC) competition. Elevate Aviation Photo

Murphy became an aircraft mechanic straight out of high school and earned her AME licence at Winnipeg’s Red River College in 2010, launching a successful career in maintenance that led to her current role as a quality assurance auditor at Flair Airlines. 

Now, she’s helping prepare a new generation of women AMEs for an aviation industry that desperately needs new talent — and helping break down lingering stereotypes in male-dominated professions.  

“We need to talk more about these things,” said Murphy. “We have to have spaces for women to talk about these things, but then also share it with the greater population of the industry.” 

A key strategy for improving female representation in aviation is Elevate’s participation in the 2024 Aerospace Maintenance Council (AMC) competition from April 9 to 11 in Chicago. 

Alpine Aerotech AME Crystal Bruce finishing up working on a P/W PT6T3D powerplant from a Bell 412. Heath Moffatt Photo

A team of five Canadian women from Elevate will compete among hundreds of other AMEs — most of them men — in a friendly showcase of engineering skill and workplace efficiency.  

“We send a team for representation; we want people to see all females working together,” said Murphy, a veteran AMC competitor who is serving this year as the Elevate Aviation team coach.  

“Our mission is to provide women and underrepresented groups meaningful careers in aviation. It’s the representation that I really want to show, and then also giving these ladies an experience to bond for life.” 

About 75 teams are expected at the AMC competition, offered as part of the MRO Americas conference at Chicago’s McCormick Place.  

Crystalle Laamanen, team captain for the Elevate Aviation AME team. Crystalle Laamanen Photo

Teams are divided by industry segment, not by gender. Elevate will compete with male and female counterparts in the general aviation category, racing against the clock to complete maintenance tasks like replacing an auxiliary power unit, installing new windows, replacing fan blade motors, rigging control cables and coating an airframe in virtual paint booths.  

“Some events are timed but also judged on how complete it is,” said Murphy. “And other things are judged by how well it is done — did you actually find the error?”  

Elevate Aviation has sent all-female AME teams to this competition for the last three years — as well as in 2018 and 2019, prior to the pandemic — and has drawn plaudits for its performance. 

Last year, Elevate competitor Cassandra Hepp won the competition’s professionalism award, a scene captured for posterity in the recent Only Up documentary spearheaded by Elevate founder and prominent industry advocate Kendra Kincade. 

The team from Elevate Aviation at a recent tune-up event. Elevate Aviation Photo

“I think that also proves: If you want a more professional workplace, employ women,” said Murphy. “It can help set the tone, and I think that’s why it’s needed.”  

This year’s Elevate Aviation AME team is led by captain Crystalle Laamanen, an AME at Great Slave Helicopters in Yellowknife, N.W.T.  

Other members include Becca Rosborough from Oceanside Aviation Ltd. in Debert, N.S.; Staci Foster from Royal Canadian Air Force 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron at Shearwater, N.S.; Kaitlyn Harvey, an AME at Jazz Technical Services; and Breanne Robillard, a licenced M2 AME with Aurora Jet Partners. 

Despite advances, women are still underrepresented in aircraft maintenance. Elevate Aviation is trying to change that. Heath Moffatt Photo

“We, as the experienced AMEs need to be involved in events like this competition to raise awareness and to show younger generations how much fun can be had, how many different paths are available and how rewarding a job in aviation can be,” said Laamanen.  

“They will see us coming together as teams and having a blast while showcasing this amazing career.”  

In addition to skill development and networking opportunities, the competition is an opportunity to build strong friendships and grow industry knowledge among like-minded colleagues.  

Previous AME teams from Elevate Aviation have performed extremely well at international competitions. Elevate Aviation Photo

“The ability to learn different skills from each other has also been an amazing asset,” said Rosborough, a former student of Laamannen’s at Nova Scotia Community College.  

“Being able to compete alongside someone who taught me and I have looked up to throughout my career, is an experience that not everyone can say they got to have.”  

As an RCAF maintainer, Foster relishes the challenge of a job where no two days are the same, and the environment is always demanding. That experience may be helpful as she navigates the competition’s pressure-cooker atmosphere. 

By improving representation at public competitions, Elevate Aviation hopes more women will envision themselves in aviation careers. Heath Moffatt Photo

“There really is nothing like coming together as a team to showcase the skills you use every day,” said Foster. “The idea of competition brings excitement and camaraderie to the field.” 

As for coach Lindsay Murphy, she hopes this competition — and others like it — will spark conversations and encourage young women to see themselves in rewarding, abundantly-available aviation careers. 

“If you see it, you can do it,” she said. “If you think about where you’d want to work and what you do want to do, there’s probably a career option that fits that. For the most part, the opportunities are great. And we need that those young people to make [the industry] better, as well.” 

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