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For women, the sky’s the limit

Girls can do anything boys can, including climbing into the cockpit of an airplane and taking off into the wild blue yonder. To prove that point, the Region of Waterloo International Airport has been marking Women of Aviation Worldwide Week since Monday.

The goal is to expose hundreds of local women to opportunities in the aviation industry, including careers as a pilot. To that end, many will take to the skies in free flights offered up today (Saturday).

“We’re hoping to fly between 500-600 girls and women who have never been on a small plane before, in support of the Women of Aviation Worldwide Fly It Forward initiative,” said Waterloo-Wellington Flight Centre communications coordinator Maureen Dennie.

Overlapping International Women’s Day (March 8) – also the 103rd anniversary of the first woman ever to gain a pilot’s license, Raymonde de Laroche of France – the past week provided opportunities for girls to imagine a career in the aviation industry by interacting with female professionals in the field or getting up close and personal with the planes themselves.

The goal, Dennie explained, is to create an environment in which women and girls can explore new possibilities. Among the flight centre’s goals for the past week was to win a title for the Waterloo Region International Airport as “The Most Female Friendly Airport in the World.” Several airport businesses are competing, with last year’s prize going to an airport in Yellowknife which hosted 430 women and girls in one day.

Of about 22 pilot instructors at the Waterloo-Wellington Flight Centre, three are female.

The worldwide, weeklong endeavour saw 23 Canadian airports compete for the title of “The Most Female Friendly Airport in the World.” [elena maystruk / the observer]
The worldwide, weeklong endeavour saw 23 Canadian airports compete for the title of “The Most Female Friendly Airport in the World.” [elena maystruk / the observer]
“That’s pretty high in the industry,” Dennie said.

Drawing from her own experience as a graduate of the aviation program, not much has changed on that front for nearly 20 years.

“To give you an example, I graduated from college in ’95 and out of 17 graduates there were two girls. Fast forward to 2012 and out of the college program’s 22 graduates, one was a woman.”

Women rarely find their way to careers in aviation, making up only seven per cent of all pilots worldwide. Yet those that do penetrate the industry tend to become very successful, she added.

“It’s a male-dominated industry, for sure, but it seems the industry has accepted women quite well,” said Waterloo-Wellington Flight Centre flight instructor Ektaa Pathria.

Today, women who pre-registered for the event will have a chance to see planes and the region from an entirely new perspective as they are taken for a 15-minute flight in a small plane. To put those who have never flown at ease, groups will be briefed on safety measures. They will then be given a tour of the plane by volunteer pilots.

“All of the pilots that are volunteering are very excited – they are very personable. They are doing this because they love flying,” Dennie said.

As for those whose feet don’t like to leave the ground, she said there is more than one way for women to rise in the industry. During the week, a number of successful women spoke to girls and other visitors about their experiences in various branches of the industry. Among them was a pilot for Air Canada, the only airport operations manager at Pearson Airport, an airport manufacturer, and an air traffic controller.

At the same time as the free flights, the airport is holding an Aviation Career and Fun Flying Expo, presenting visitors with opportunities to learn about various careers in aviation.

By midweek registration for today’s main event was well into the hundreds.

All competing airports will be sending their numbers to the Women of Aviation Worldwide, which will pick a winner in the next few weeks.

With 23 airport events being held in Canada, the happenings are essential to the efforts of Women of Aviation Worldwide, said Canadian team lead Lesley Page.

“It’s really the only thing that happens that focuses on introducing girls to the world of aviation.”


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