Take to the skies for female kind

Jackie Book, a pilot for 17 years, stands in front of aircraft on display at the Oshawa Airport.
Jackie Book, a pilot for 17 years, stands in front of aircraft on display at the Oshawa Airport.

In Canada, fewer than six per cent of employees working as pilots, flight instructors or flight engineers are female, according to the latest census.

Amelia Earhart, a famous woman of aviation once said, “You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.”

She pioneered the way for women of aviation, and that achievement is celebrated each year for a week in March coinciding with International Women’s Day.

To celebrate Women of Aviation Week recently, female pilots and other experts in the field gathered at the Oshawa Airport to answer questions from the public. They also took a few lucky ladies up in a small airplane for a short ride in the clouds above Oshawa.

Jackie Book, a pilot for the last 17 years, has flown about two thousand military hours and teaches new pilots the ropes.

“I’ve always liked flying but at the time I was going to the [university] and they came out with an incredible commercial aviation management program and that’s when I joined that program and I realized I loved flying and ever since then I’ve never looked back,” she said.

Book says there are a disproportionate number of women in her field and she’s trying to encourage more to take up aviation.

“It’s a great career, and unfortunately, we don’t have that many ladies compared to men in the program,” she said.

Book loves all aspects of flying. “The people that you get to fly with, the places that you get to go and obviously the aircraft you get to fly – phenomenal,” she said. “I’m so happy to be able to influence young ladies coming into the flying career.”

She belongs to the 99s, a non-profit international organization of women from 36 countries around the world that promotes females in the industry through scholarships, support and education. According to the organization’s website, almost every female pilot in the world will belong to the 99s at some point in their career. There are 10 Canadian chapters with six in Ontario and four in Western Canada. Amelia Earhart was the organization’s first president in 1929.

Not all women of aviation are pilots. There are a number of other careers involving air traffic and safety.

Leslie Calhoun is the manager of operational training at NAV Canada. She is responsible for national recruitment, and oversees all job training for all air traffic controllers across the country.

“I was about 20 years old and just near the end of my undergraduate degree at the University of Windsor, questioning my career path. I considered and researched many careers. I was searching for something rewarding, both personally and financially,” she said. “When I finally did get to meet someone that did the job, what really struck me is how much they loved it and how happy they were.”

Calhoun said free flights are a myth and although the job is stressful, she’s glad she pursued air traffic control as a career. She has worked for the last 23 years as an air traffic controller and manager for NAV Canada.

Kim Winsor is a pilot for Air Canada, something she has always wanted to do. She worked her way through the skies for several years before landing her dream job.

“I instructed for three years with the flight school, then I went on to fly with Provincial Airlines, which the flight school was owned by. I was flying throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, also did a couple flights into Greenland,” she said.

Winsor enjoyed flying above Eastern Canada, and appreciated the beautiful landscapes beneath her wings.

“My next step was flying with CanJet Airlines on the 737 as a first officer. This was a great airline. Unfortunately, it was short-lived as six months after I started to work there they actually shut down operations,” said Winsor. “I was forced to find another job.”

Winsor went on to have a job with SunWing Airlines for eight months before receiving a call from Air Canada, and her dream became a reality.

Glennis Walsh is also an Air Canada pilot, and she got her career started through the Air Cadets.

“I am a huge advocate for the Air Cadet program and what they can do for you,” she said. “My brother is an Air Canada pilot and he got his licence through Air Cadets and our father who is also an airline pilot also got his licence through Air Cadets.”

Walsh says her inspiration for becoming a pilot came from her father.

“He was an airline pilot and absolutely loved his job. One of the best days of flying was being able to go flying with my dad in a 152 after I got my licence,” she said.

Walsh has flown a number of well-known people, including Jack Layton in 2008.

“That was a real honour doing that flying. We got to fly to places like Thompson, Manitoba, stuff that would not normally be on an Air Canada route schedule. It was a real fantastic opportunity.”

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