Passion helps female flyers soar

Andrew Robinson
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Six out of 14 new students at Gander Flight Training are female, according to manager Gord Butt. Shown here (from left) are students Sarah Hiscock and Lacey Tippett, and flight instructor Megan Keeping.

It was a different era when James Brown sang the song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in 1966, one in which women were still grappling with second-wave feminism.

Today, women are taking on many of the jobs once held exclusively by their male counterparts, but in aviation, some jobs are still dominated by those with the Y chromosome.

According to data from the 2006 Canadian census, 94 per cent of all air pilots, flight engineers and flying instructors were men. That’s a lot of testosterone in a professional workforce of 14,575.

However, in the years to come, as more women receive training and older pilots retire, that balance will change.

Gord Butt, manager of Gander Flight Training (GFT), said six out of 14 new students entering the school this fall are female. Those numbers have been increasing every year.

“We have about 40 per cent of the students here who are female,” he said. “About five years ago, we were about one in 10, and now we’re at the 40 per cent mark, and I anticipate it’s going to grow.”

Megan Keeping, a flight instructor at GFT who also attended the school, said pretending to fly planes with cardboard boxes was a favourite pastime of her youth, and it led to involvement with the air cadets.

There were not as many females involved with air cadets back then as there are now, she said, and the lack of female pilots has always been noticeable to her.

“We’ve come a long way since back in the day when women could only be caregivers and teachers,” she added. “We knew coming into this we had to work just as hard or harder to prove ourselves to the boys and the rest of the men, because we are the minority.”

College of the North Atlantic offers programs in aircraft maintenance engineering and aircraft structural repair. Frank Slaney, co-ordinator of aviation programs at the college, said the number of females involved with the program has varied over the last 15 years, and female students perform just as well as males.

We’ve come a long way since back in the day when women could only be caregivers and teachers. Megan Keeping, instructor, Gander Flight Training

According to census data, 96 per cent of all aircraft mechanics and inspectors are male. Slaney said there is great demand for workers in aircraft maintenance and repairs.

Sarah Hiscock, a second-year student at GFT, became involved with cadets because her brothers had already been a part of it, but a family obligation has since turned into a passion for flying.

“I got accepted to a summer course that was an introduction to aviation, and I almost backed out of it. A couple of people talked me into it, and I loved it.”

She has since obtained a private pilot licence.

“I remember talking to Mom on the phone one night, and I was like, Mom, I just found out what I want to do for the rest of my life. I fell head-over-heels in love with flying.”

Keeping said there is a great potential for success for any student who wishes to become a pilot. She said while some males might hold an antiquated opinion that a girl can’t fly a plane, they are proven wrong pretty easily.

“That’s OK — I might be able to fly a plane better than you,” she said, responding to a hypothetical heckler.

Hiscock said becoming a pilot is not something to pursue lightly, as flight is a passion, a point Keeping agreed with.

“You have to have the passion, because there is bad weather days — it’s Newfoundland. It’s a sickness. Some people have compared it to drug addiction. If we don’t fly for two weeks, we’re contrary.”

Lacey Tippett, a first-year student at the school, is interested in finding a career that will allow her to help people and the environment, as a water bomber pilot would by protecting the forest.

The Beacon

Organizations: Gander Flight Training

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Barry
    October 09, 2010 - 20:34

    Here's another flight school with a lot of girls............Newfoundland is very nice.

  • Vern Moyer
    October 04, 2010 - 15:16

    I would be interested in knowing how you attract 40% female students. We have a flight school in Pa. & I am Chairman of the Flight School Association of North America and we are always looking for more ideas of how to attract new students. Thank You, Vern Moyer

    • Michael Martin
      October 05, 2010 - 12:05

      What a fascinating story. What caused this imbalance? Is it a holdover from the wars? What has changed now? My sense is that this situation would make a good topic for an academic study or thesis.