Meet Jessica Traynor: Air Canada’s youngest female captain

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | October 22, 2020

Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 9 seconds.

In 2009, a then-18-year-old Jessica Traynor of Peterborough, Ont., got her first chance to fly while attending the Aviation Technology – Flight program at Sault College.

It was a dream of hers to become a pilot after being exposed to the industry at a young age through her father, Randy Traynor, a captain on the De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400 at Air Canada Jazz.

Eleven years later, Traynor saw herself earn the honour of becoming the youngest female captain in Air Canada’s 83-year history, as she worked her way into the lead seat aboard the Airbus A320.

The decade between her first flight and her recent achievement was a grind; Traynor paid her dues in the industry as a flight instructor and air ambulance operator for northern communities before landing her spot in a commercial seat at Jazz, much like her father.

Jessica Traynor is the youngest female captain in Air Canada’s 83-year history. Jessica Traynor Photo

“It’s rewarding to see that you’ve achieved the goals that you set up for yourself,” she reflected during a recent interview with Skies. “I honestly just love flying. It was just a passion. I’ve wanted to do it since I was really young. So it’s just really exciting to see all the things that you want kind of falling into place.”

“Falling into place” is putting it modestly. Years before earning her spot in the captain’s seat on a commercial airliner, Traynor learned to fly in a Czechoslovakian-made trainer, the Zlin 242 — a “really fun plane to start on” — while attending Sault College.

After nailing down the basics of flight in the Zlin, her next step was earning the requisite hours for her multi-engine and multi-engine instrument flight rating in the school’s Piper Seminole. She must have impressed a few people in her time there as a student, because only two weeks after graduation, Traynor earned her instructor rating and the college hired her onas a flight instructor — a career move she said was a beneficial starting place.

“Instructing builds your confidence, because you get to watch everyone basically make the mistakes that you’re told you’re making all the time,” she explained. “You really see things a lot clearer, I suppose, when you can watch other people do [the flying].”

Taking the lessons she learned both in the classroom and as an instructor at Sault, she moved to Thunder Bay, Ont., where she flew the Mitsubishi MU-2 for Thunder Airlines.

“It is a sick plane,” she laughed. “My favourite plane so far, honestly.”

At Thunder Airlines, she sharpened her understanding of flight ops while earning a new appreciation for everyone’s role. It was her job not only to fly the MU-2, but also to file flight plans, fuel the aircraft, check the weather, and complete her own flight following.

“You did everything,” she recounted. “That was a great experience because you understand how it all works. So once you get to the commercial side of things, even though you’re not doing it any longer, you know what to look for.”

The flying itself was a challenge as well, moving from a world of paved runways at the flight school to gravel strips while serving northern communities.

“You don’t really know what’s going to happen when you get there,” she said. “You really learn how to manage your time and be aware of the risks that are involved when you’re doing something. . . . Once you got to the airlines, finally, it’s a break almost.”

Jessica Traynor (left) and her father, Randy, became Jazz’s first ever father-daughter pair to pilot an aircraft, doing so on a Dash 8-400. Jessica Traynor Photo

That didn’t take long for her. After a year of flying the MU-2 for Thunder, Traynor was hired at Jazz. There, she was able to achieve a career goal, as she and her father Randy became the carrier’s first ever father-daughter pair to pilot an aircraft, doing  so on a Dash 8-400 — which they flew together five times.

“That was pretty special,” she said.

Less than two years later, in 2017, she concluded her time with Jazz and moved over to Air Canada — initially starting with its Rouge division. Traynor was placed in the right seat of the A320 right off the hop, flying routes throughout North America and down to the Caribbean.

Her next goal? Getting her spot in the captain’s seat, though she was cautious not to do so “too soon.”

She added: “You can’t just jump in because you have the opportunity. You have to know that you are also ready for that responsibility.”

And when did she know she was ready?

“It was just to the point where I was going to work and I felt so comfortable with everything that  was going on that I wanted to take on more of a leadership role,” she said. “But at the time, I was still the first officer, so I couldn’t step on any toes. But I had that desire to do more.”

She gathered her confidence and gave it a shot and, in May 2020, Traynor earned the distinct honour of being Air Canada’s youngest female captain.

Though aviation is in uncertain times, it’s undoubtedly an exciting achievement. She expressed her desire to stay with Air Canada for the foreseeable future, hopefully winding up on a wide-body like her 777-flying partner, Colin Walker. But she has set even loftier goals now that she’s earned her spot in the captain’s seat.

“Spaceship. That’s my ultimate goal,” she said. “Hopefully commercial space travel in like 25 years.”

And with a track record like hers, it’s hard to imagine she won’t get there eventually.

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  1. What a nice article it reminds of the days watching Judy Evans / Cameron when she use to fly in Inuvik NWT. It was a time when Air Canada did not have any femalr Pilots and hired Judy to open thr door for all women Pilots in Canadian Aviation.

    1. Wow absolutely amazing and what a fine example you set for your and future generations of woman and men .
      Hats off to you Captin !

  2. She is such an inspiration. My 10 year old son loves everything plane related and wants to become a pilot someday. I would love to be able to contact her and get some first hand advice.

    1. You should look into getting him into air cadets when old enough. My daughter passed her ground school through them and might have been flying this summer except covid. She is 16

  3. Great story on Jessica Traynor congratulations on your position and wish you all the best from Canada people of Canada we need people who know how to fly aircraft and be safe
    Thank you for being a part of the air safety of our friendly Skies of Canada COLIN ELDRIDGE

  4. Way to go Jessica, maybe that what the skies need, more younger, and talatent people like yourself. I just know you will be fine, in all of you jerneys, as a Piolit in our great skies. All The Best!

  5. Now THAT is impressive !!!

    I thought I was pretty good when I taught my daughter to operate the excavator.

    He must be a very proud Dad to have a daughter like that !!

  6. O hats to you Jessica My brother in law is a pilot as well as many air Canada pilots
    I hope this virus has not effected you in any way as like many pilots
    Love to see you in space
    Best of luck

  7. Congratulations Jessica, you earned your promotion to the captain’s seat through hard work, it was not handed to you because you are a women. I wish you good success in your aviation career, you have all the qualities to succeed. It makes me very happy that many women find and earn their place in the aviation world.

  8. Fantastic, I hope your career goes on for years and years. I would love to be a passenger on one of your flights. I hope more young women jump in and become pilots. The sky’s the limit.

  9. What a great and inspiring article. Very impressive. Good luck in your future and “space” is the limit 🙂

  10. Hate to brag (no I don’t) but Randy is my brother and Jess is my niece. Couldn’t be any prouder of either of them.

  11. Wow. Nice work there Captain . The closest I got to piloting a Rocket was at Johnson Space Center Houston Texas ,, my guys pressure cleaning the Saturn V Rocket inside and out. 22 days. A Canadian I am very proud to have landed this NASA Contract in 2005 March. Latimat Containment the reason we were hired , all waste waters collected for proper disposal.

  12. Vision, desire, faith, discipline, hard work and gratitude for those who mentor, inspire and encourage along the way leads to personal success. This is a fine example of how it is done. The wonderful smiles of father and daughter caps it all off. Loved this article

  13. Wow , that’s really a blessing for the whole family and air Canada. So inspiring , would love my 2 year old to be like that some day . Best of luck captain T.

  14. Congratulations Jessica

    What a great achievement! I wished I had met you when I worked at Air Canada
    I was the first woman to attend and graduate from Aviation at Sault College in 1977
    I was not hired by Air Canada until 1987 after many different jobs. I recently retired in 2018 as F/O on the B777. Not quite 32 years
    Sincerely Laura Sykes

  15. Congratulations Jessica!! Most realises At least while your still young and on the contrary When you will grow older, the biggest rewarding achievement they can get is to do something better then their parents did!!! You just did that at so young age and That even one of the most dream job, I am sure as much the world has advanced, we still have work to do when it comes to women empowerment as they are not encouraged in many settings, so it must have been not an easy accomplishment for you!! Great example set for all the girls out there!!

  16. My daughter transitioned to an Air Canada captain about 2 months prior to Jessica, and just slightly older. She had a love of flying from a very young age as well. And followed a similar path to the left seat that Jessica did (with the exception of being an instructor and the northern flying).

    Great seeing many young women taking up a career in aviation, and succeeding.

  17. Investing in youth is the future of Air Canada. Unfortunately the union makes that difficult as they favors seniority over skill. In rough times those at the bottom of the ladder are first to go. It is so refreshing to see someone like yourself with so much drive and passion for Aviation. People like you are securing the future of all of Air Canada’s employees and their families. Investment early in a pilots career shows the greatest returns for the airline. It costs upward of a million dollars in training by the time a pilot reaches the left seat of a 777. Months at Boeing or Airbus training. One day it would be interesting to hear your take on the differences between the Airbus Flight deck and the boeing Flight Deck. Most pilots prefer the first flight deck they worked on. You should start a blog, or do some speaking on your journey, I’m sure it would inspire other young people to follow your path.
    It also shows that military service is not the only way to the airlines, drive and hard work will get you there. I hope you have a long, healthy, and prosperous career, and congratulations on your great accomplishments thus far.

  18. So glad I found this article. I start teaching coop in the fall and I will definitely be highlighting this story when we talk about females in aviation.

  19. I stumbled across this article researching other stuff. Well written article and it put a lump in my throat to read about a man’s offspring following in his jetstream. Achievement well done and at such a young age only suggests she is not only smart but had the best of the best help her along the way. Congratulations to both father and daughter, job well done.

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