Meet Kendra Kincade: Air traffic controller, honorary colonel & Elevate Aviation founder

AvatarBy Natasha McKenty | March 8, 2021

Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 4 seconds.

The story of Kendra Kincade’s entry into the aviation industry isn’t typical. Her personal experience with two separate mentors helped guide her into the industry. Today, among the many hats she wears, she’s an advocate for female representation in aviation, and she’s big on mentorship. 

Kincade described living under an abandoned hospital and in backyard treehouses at age 13, which led her into the foster care system. As a public speaker, she shares this part of her journey because it demonstrates how she went from having no self-confidence to where she stands today: Nav Canada air traffic controller, honorary colonel, and founder of Edmonton, Alberta-based Elevate Aviation — a not-for-profit organization that supports education and opportunities for women in aviation.  

Founded by Kincade in 2015, Elevate Aviation has formed a community of like-minded industry leaders who seek to encourage women to consider aviation. Kendra Kincade Photo

Following the footsteps of her first mentor, roughly two decades ago, she walked through the operation doors of an air traffic control (ATC) center, “and that was it,” she recalled. 

During the tour, she “got to plug into the radar system” and repeat instructions written on a piece of paper. “When the pilot said it back to me . . . from that moment on I wanted to be an air traffic controller,” she told Skies.  

Despite the criticism she received, the mother of four relocated her young children to Cornwall, Ontario, to begin training for her dream career. At the time, Kincade said “the success rate was only seven percent” in the specialty she was being trained in. She focused on working “through the challenges of training,” and eventually qualified as an air traffic controller at the Edmonton Area Control Centre — but not without a few hurdles.  

When Kincade returned to Edmonton to finish her training, a car accident and a severe concussion derailed her dream and her confidence.  

After two years of healing, Kincade returned to the ATC center feeling overwhelmed. “They were going to fire me,” she admitted, “they had the paperwork done.” That’s when John Bright, her second mentor, stepped in. “Let me work with her,” he insisted.  

Kincade was appointed an honorary colonel of 417 Combat Support Squadron, Cold Lake, Alberta, in 2018. RCAF Photo

“I had the ability to do the job. I just didn’t believe that I could do it,” she recalled. Bright, a terminal controller, never gave up on Kincade. Each day, he would ask her to name three things she did right until her confidence returned.  

His actions inspired more than Kincade’s success; they taught her to never stop reaching.  

“Just having someone believe in you is so powerful,” she said. 

Kincade recalled a pivotal moment during a 2009 Make a Wish event where she realized two things: helping others made her happy; and she could do anything she put her mind to.  

In an effort to help others, Kincade joined the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation’s Kilimanjaro Climb a few years later, which required her to fundraise $5,000. “I’m a single mom with four kids,” she joked. “I didn’t know how to raise money.” So, she formed a calendar featuring female air traffic controllers — the success of which helped her raise nearly $11,000, and inspired what is now Elevate Aviation’s mentorship program.   

Founded by Kincade in 2015, Elevate Aviation has formed a community of like-minded industry leaders who seek to encourage women to consider aviation.  

The drive to create a welcoming industry for women led to Kincade’s appointment as honorary colonel of 417 Combat Support Squadron, Cold Lake, Alberta, in 2018. 

Kincade has since “expanded Elevate’s programs across [Canada],” and launched Air Time — a webinar/podcast hosted by Kincade herself. Air Time is devoted to elevating female aviators’ voices while continuing to expose women to the industry during shutdowns and isolation caused by COVID-19.  

“We’re in the development stages of a documentary,” she added. The goal is to explore why women aren’t considering aviation. “It’s an amazing industry for women to work in,” and Kincade wants to personally see to it that “a diverse industry stays top of mind.”  

“I don’t know what my future holds, but we’re working on building an actual campus [at Edmonton International Airport] where we’ll have affordable living and childcare to try to get women certified into aviation and on the job training . . . and to hopefully grow and expand,” she said. “That’s my next dream.” 

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6 Comments

  1. Good for you Kendra Kincade, I love stories like this, my wife is a pilot, My daughter wants to be in aviation and I am a semi retired pilot for Boeing, Thank you for not giving up. Love ya..Bob ATP

  2. Congratulations Kendra for pursuing your goal, you show the way for women to dare to enter the aviation world and have a successful career.

  3. Hi Kendra, Earl Legate here. I have directly worked with 5 gals on the floor in North High and with you when we were both ATC instructors in the school although we were working in different specialties/sectors. I have always been amazed with the energy and enthusiasm which you have shown in every project you are involved with and am a big supporter of Elevate. Since retiring I have met many parents of young women and also many through my Charter bus driving, taking every opportunity to encourage young women to consider aviation careers and give them information about Elevate for them to follow up with. Well done Kendra.

  4. Kendra it is amazing how much you have accomplished at such a young age. What a great model!
    Thank you for creating opportunities for others.

  5. Kendra I loved your story and passion to achieve a “Yes I Can” mindset no matter what. Keep inspiring us by sharing your story and belief that the only thing that holds us back from achieving our goals is our mindset..

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