How Thunder Bay’s aviation industry hopes to bring more women and young people into the fold

9 March 2024
How Thunder Bay’s aviation industry hopes to bring more women and young people into the fold

Confederation College hosts career fair, Wasaya Airlines has showcase for women.

Thunder Bay, Ont., wants young people and women to soar into a career in aviation as Canada’s airline industry deals with an ongoing pilot shortage.

This week, there’s a career fair at Confederation College and a showcase for women in aviation at Wasaya Airlines that highlight the multiple opportunities available to them.

“We definitely need more hands. We’re always needing more people to bring planes in, ground crew, maintenance workers,” said Rachel Perzan, a second-year student in aircraft maintenance at Confederation College who works with Bearskin Airlines.

“There’s more than just maintenance and pilots. There’s service workers, inspection people — there’s always a place for you,” she said. “If working with your hands isn’t your thing, we can find a place for you.”

The shortage of aviation workers has been a problem for years and worsened in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Matt Bunn, associate dean at Confederation College’s school of aviation.

“We saw a lot of exodus early on through the pandemic and there already was a shortage, so it’s worse than before,” he said. “Everybody’s looking for pilots and aircraft mechanics.”

A 2018 report by the Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace said a third of flight operators in Canada cited pilots as their biggest skills shortage. The report said the need for experienced pilots is beginning to outpace the available national supply and projected the industry will need an additional 7,300 pilots by 2025.

The need for workers is so great that Confederation College can’t keep up with the demand, even within Thunder Bay, Bunn said.

For Perzan, aviation allowed her to turn her passion for working with her hands into a career.

“I’ve always been interested in working with my hands; high school shop class was my favourite,” she said. “I’ve always loved figuring out how things work, taking them apart and putting them back together better than before.”

The aviation industry in Thunder Bay is particularly important, as the community serves as a hub for fly-in First Nations in northwestern Ontario, with several small airlines based in the city and related suppliers who help keep them in the air.

There are 200 aerospace firms based in northern Ontario, according to Thunder Bay’s Community Economic Development Commission, which is part of a $6.4-billion industry in Ontario alone.

Confederation College offers pilot training and aircraft maintenance programs and had 24 local, regional and national aviation employers meet with students earlier this week. Though the number of students who participated wasn’t immediately available, 350 students attended a similar event last year.

Women take flight at Wasaya Airlines 

On Thursday, Wasaya Airlines hosted a group of 16 young women to answer questions and showcase the possibilities of aviation.

Wasaya pilot Marjarie Kennedy took them on a flight around Anemki Wajiw (Mount McKay) and the Sleeping Giant.

Women who work at the airline took them on tours of the company’s planes and answered their questions about how to get into the industry.

“I’m not sure where I’m going to end up in aviation, but I just know I love being in airplanes, I love learning about them and I love being in the sky,” said Dhelal Mohammed, a student pilot in Thunder Bay.

“I’m not sure what path it’s going to take me on, but I love being in a plane,” she said. “On bad days when we can’t fly, I’m a little sad — I wish for better weather.”

Mohammed began her career seven years ago as a customer service agent in Winnipeg before transitioning to a flight attendant and is now on her way to becoming a pilot. She’s preparing to take her first series of exams on her way to becoming a commercial pilot. Her dream is to fly an Airbus as a commercial pilot.

Data from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA+21) suggests that women make up about six per cent of the total pilot group worldwide. The organization reports the share of women pilots in Canada is seven per cent, ranked fifth in the world, behind India, Ireland, South Africa and Australia.

A Montreal-based organization, Canadian Women in Aviation, is holding a national conference in the city from May 13 to 16.

For Mohammed, events like the one hosted by Wasaya Airlines are a cool experience in helping inspire the next generation of pilots and show them it can be done.

“I was in their shoes once, once upon a time,” Mohammed said. “If I can pass that feedback on to them, it really helps.”

Source: cbc

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