Students at a past Elevate Aviation tour day. Photo: Supplied
Young girls in Yellowknife will hear from aviation professionals on March 17 as part of Elevate Aviation’s cross country tour.
Elevate Aviation is a non-profit organization based out of Edmonton that focuses on supporting women and underrepresented groups in aviation through workshops and information sessions. Since 2015, it has done yearly cross country tours, travelling coast to coast to introduce youth between the ages of 12 to 18 to careers in aviation.
Though all youth are welcome to attend the tour, the organization specifically encourages young girls to attend to learn about women in the male-dominated industry.
Friday’s tour day will run from 8:30am-2:30pm. It’s free to participate, but youth need to register ahead of time.
Erika Henkel, a volunteer with Elevate Aviation, says introducing girls to careers in aviation at a young age is important to show them that it’s possible.
“It’s opening their interests and getting those butterflies going while you’re young and still figuring out what’s going on,” she told Cabin Radio.
“I think a lot of girls don’t picture themselves being a pilot or being an air traffic controller or being an aerospace engineer, and this is to remind them that it’s an option for them.”
Those participating in the tour day will get to tour local airlines including Air Tindi, Buffalo Airways, Summit Air, Canadian North and Great Slave Helicopters, as well as hear from a variety of speakers with different aviation backgrounds and see presentations by women in aviation.
Henkel, who works in operations and dispatch with Air Tindi, went into the aviation industry after meeting a female pilot. After switching from a science degree to one in travel and tourism in university, she became a flight attendant with an international airline in Canada to follow her dreams of traveling and exploring.
“I went up to the cockpit on my first flight and it was captained by a woman, and she was showing me the planning charts for our flight that day,” she said.
“It wasn’t until I saw her explaining that to me that I thought, ‘Why did I never think of doing this? Why can’t I put myself in that pilot seat?’ It’s just nice having another woman almost like a mentor to see yourself in that position.”
Rebecca Van Snick, an Air Tindi Twin Otter pilot and volunteer with Elevate Aviation, says mentorship has played one of the most important roles in her career.
“Before I became a pilot, I went for a flight one day and I didn’t know you could fly small planes. I tried it, I liked it, and then I was debating on doing it as a career,” she said.
“One day, I just walked around [Toronto Pearson International Airport] and I was looking for a female pilot and I didn’t see one, but I saw this man and I walked up to him and said, ‘Hi, can I ask you a couple questions about being a pilot?’ And then that was it.”
Van Snick says the tour day in Yellowknife will be an opportunity for girls to meet and ask people questions and potentially find mentors for themselves. As well, the day will debunk a lot of myths surrounding the aviation world.
She says one of the most common questions she gets is: do I need to be really good at math to be a pilot?
“It’s a myth,” says Van Snick.
“You need to have some understanding of mathematics, but it’s not like you need fourth year calculus from university. You need to be good at school, keep your grades up, but you don’t need to be a mathematician wizard.”
The tour day in Yellowknife will discuss these topics and allow for students to ask questions about schooling and training needed for careers in aviation. Discussions surrounding being a woman in a male-dominated industry will also take place.
Henkel and Van Snick both agreed while the industry still lacks female professionals, it continues to progress toward more equality.
“[Women] used to not be allowed to apply for the jobs, you couldn’t be a pilot, you couldn’t be an air traffic controller as a woman for a long time,” said Henkel.
“When it changed, it was a slow motion to get women on the platform because I don’t think it was as inviting in the early stages.
“But it has changed, and it’s constantly changing in the right direction. In Yellowknife, there’s a ton of female pilots, there’s a ton of women in operation roles.”
Some professions, like air traffic control and maintenance engineering, are still progressing slowly and have less women in those roles, said Henkel.
Coming out of the pandemic, the aviation industry is at an “interesting point,” said Van Snick, claiming it’s a time of high demand for many positions.
“There’s a lot of demand for a lot of positions within the industry, and there’s a lot of movement and growth happening right now,” she said.
“With respect for women, there’s no better time because equality is such a big topic right now and people are pushing and companies are pushing and so why not take that opportunity?”