During the week of March 8th, we come together to celebrate the anniversary date of the world’s first female pilot licence granted in 1910, as well as International Women’s Day. We are proud to acknowledge the women who have contributed and made an impact within the aviation industry during a week dedicated to raising awareness of aviation opportunities available to girls of all ages, while celebrating the accomplishments of past and present women in aviation.
Thank you to the women at Viking who have shared their stories (see links below) on how the industry has shaped them into the wonderful women that they are. The stories highlight their accomplishments, as well as the obstacles they have experienced, but most importantly, why they love working alongside planes!
We keep the torch high and bright for the next generation to come.
I have always been drawn to the skies. At the age of sixteen, I joined the skydiving team at our local flying club. Free falls were scary and exhilarating but I wanted to fly, and this was not an available career option for me. Instead, I decided to continue my passion for the skies by becoming an astronomer and completing a master’s degree in physics. I landed my dream job at the Bulgarian National Observatory, where I got the opportunity to be within the mountain’s night after night, looking at the wonders of the universe.
However, a time came for another change, and I moved with my family across the ocean to our new home—Canada. It took me a while to find my way to the skies again, but I eventually did. First, I found the Victoria Flying Club, where I completed my private pilot licence. Vancouver Island is a beautiful place, and I am grateful for the club's opportunity to allow me to see the beauty from above again.
I am also very active with the Civil Air Search and Rescue organization (CASARA). This is an amazing group of volunteers who train and participate in search and rescue missions from the air.
Finally, three years ago, I joined the Quality department at Viking Air Ltd. To work where airplanes are built is another dream come true! It is a pleasure to work with such knowledgeable and dedicated people, and it gives me great joy to say, "We build these planes!".
The last year has not been easy, but the amount of resilience and determination I see from every corner of my aviation world gives me hope. We keep the torch high and bright for the next generation to come.
Women in Aviation - An Employee Safety Perspective
By Kelsea McLaughlin
I work in Health and Safety for Viking Air Ltd. The main focus of my job is keeping the employees who repair, support, design, engineer and build aircraft safe at work. Like most manufacturing and aerospace facilities, it is predominantly male.
Here I am pointing to then-8 year old Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC Provincial Health Officer. Dr. Henry is a gifted communicator, who I have learned a great deal from in watching her patience, empathy and respectfulness to others.
"I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others”
- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
When I first started in this role, the contrast between myself and the shop floor workers seemed very stark. I felt like a visitor from another planet as I donned my steel-toed boots and made my way through the plant. I felt an isolation, and a disconnect between how we each viewed the role of the Safety Department as well as the value safety training held in their life (in my estimation, it was immeasurably valuable and from their point of view, mostly a waste of time).
“Are you lost?”
“Can I help you?”
“Who are you looking for?”
“Great, do I have more training to do?”
“Who sent you? Are you sure that I have to do this training?”
“Are you new here?” (I was not- I had worked in a different department for 4 years prior)
These were the daily refrains I heard.
Every time I put on those steel-toes to move from my familiar office environment to the shop floor, my stomach would lurch. I felt I had to prove to others that I did, in fact, know what I was talking about, and that I was not, in fact, lost. I felt I had to know all of the answers, at all times, for all areas, immediately upon being asked. I felt I had to seek shelter in the offices of production managers to justify my presence on the floor, and to find refuge from disgruntled rumblings and looks about what I could possibly be doing there in this very “male-centric” environment.
An interesting shift has occurred in the last few years. As I have worked more directly on the individual or departmental level, a significant advantage of how I communicate and work with people has opened up to me: without generalizing, many of the men I work with appear to feel significantly more comfortable opening up and communicating with a woman.
Daily, I get calls, emails and visits about various safety concerns, mental health struggles, sensitive first aid topics, and training opportunities they would like to be a part of. I am entrusted with their thoughts and views on safety issues that they “don’t want to make a big deal about” but think I should know.
In a societal culture of masculinity, there tends to be an aversion to sharing feelings openly, to express any emotion beyond anger without fear of judgement. To share aspirations and dreams, to talk with enthusiasm about their families and the trials and tribulations that they carry on their shoulders into work.
I know people by name now, what they do and in which area of the organization. I greet them with confidence. I look forward to my various committees and meetings and face to face interactions where I can take the pulse on how employees truly feel on their jobs, safety culture and the issues they face each day.
In essence, I am working collaboratively with a diverse group of workers, and it seems to be making a difference, both in how they see me, how I see them, but also how I see myself in this unique environment.
The feeling of having to prove yourself as a woman in a male-centred organization is nothing new. In fact, I am sure it will be a recurring theme to many people’s experience as “Women in Aviation”, but working collaboratively, encouraging empathy both in myself and from employees as well as fostering open dialog is for me, what bridges the gender gap.
I feel in tune with all parts of the company in a way I never had before, and it is truly a fulfilling feeling.
Laurie Appleton Story
I had just begun my first year in Science at University of Alberta, and a friend's dad had a small Cessna. We went up for a flight around Edmonton, and I loved flying so much that it inspired me to pursue a career in Aviation. It was probably the last thing I thought I would ever do! I received my Private Pilot Licence within a few months and went on to get a Commercial Licence. I thought it would be fun to fly more, so I got my Flight Instructor Rating and taught flying for a year in Edmonton. During that time, I got my Airline Transport Rating on my licence, and as I found out, I was the third woman in Canada to receive this rating.
By that time, I was 21, and times were changing quickly for women entering Aviation. I got a co-pilot job at a commuter airline in Alberta called Time Air. I flew Twin Otters, Shorts and Dash 7s on our routes throughout Alberta. The Twin Otter was my favourite because it was such an adaptable and versatile aeroplane and could go anywhere and land almost anywhere. I flew for approximately eight years and had over 4000 hours flying.
I loved what I did and am grateful for all of the opportunities that I received, especially when there were few women in the industry.
At that time, your pilot's licence was considered invalid "upon presumed pregnancy," and I was the first woman that the insurance company ever had to pay their salary due to pregnancy! I have four great kids, one of whom (Kelly) works at Viking in the Finance department. I have now been a realtor for over 20 years, 10 of those in Victoria, and I love it, but I have fond memories of my time in the Aviation Industry and a few good stories to tell!
My Journey – From a toddler pointing at airplanes in the sky to working at Viking Air Ltd. and beyond
By Damineh Akhavan
Growing up during war in the post-revolution Iran, one of the most available and fun activities was looking at the Tehran night sky with my father. I was fascinated by the night sky and the stars, and loved to listen to my father’s stories about life and our world as the perfect soundtrack. It was right there and then that my love story with everything and anything sky and space started.
My love of airplanes began at a very young age, two to be exact, when I was at the airport with my parents. My mother always tells the story that I was pointing at airplanes and crying that I wanted one. When my father tried to reason with me that they would be too big to take home, I told him that I wanted to build one. That is the earliest they remember me making it known to every one of my career plans.
When I was three, I watched Space Shuttle Challenger take off with Sally Ride, as the first American female astronaut, on board. I was mesmerized by her. I knew I wanted to be an astronaut when I saw her entering the shuttle. Thirty-seven years later and I can still remember that moment vividly.
When I was in second grade, I wrote an essay on what I would want to be when I grow up. I wanted to be an astronomer to discover a planet on which humans could survive. I wanted to be an engineer to build a space vehicle. And I wanted to be an astronaut to fly all the poor people on Earth to the planet I had discovered in the space vehicle I had built. I was asked to re write the essay and change my choice of career to something more realistic, specifically more realistic for a woman. My father strongly disagreed and reminded me I could do anything I put my mind into.
My obsession with space lead me to create a career path in my head with no access to mentorship or facilities (such as Science World or NASA camps) to feed my curiosity. I read books, watched Space Shuttle stories, and did my homework as well as my brother’s and cousins’ homework (I thought NASA would give me bonus points) to stay on top of my journey!
And when there was nowhere else for me to go, my parents uprooted their lives in Iran and left behind their successful careers as professional musicians and the beautiful life they’d worked hard for. We immigrated to Canada when I was 17 for us to have a better life and for me to pursue a career in aerospace and aviation.
Unfortunately, aerospace engineering was not offered anywhere in western Canada and as a young immigrant highly dependent on my parents, I was not ready to move across the country. After much thought, I enrolled at the University of Victoria, doing a double degree—a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Physics.
Throughout my studies, I interned at aerospace companies in California, and upon graduation, I had a number of job offers in the United States, as well as an offer from Viking Air Ltd. I remember my father telling me to continue my studies as I had numerous graduate school offers but something during my interview and tour at Viking caught my attention. A spark of sorts. I promised my father that I would work for a year and soon after would start my PhD. After all, the goal was to become a CSA astronaut. I started my professional career at Viking Air Ltd. on January 3rd, 2006 and haven’t looked back since!
In my 15 years at Viking, I have grown on many levels—personally and professionally. I have gone through many life events and career-altering experiences (deemed unfit for space flight after an invasive and extensive emergency eye surgery in 2007), completed an MBA in International Business in 2010, obtained my Transport Canada designation in 2012, and made lifelong friends in the industry. As a Senior Engineer, I have been involved with many modification and repair projects, travelled the world for aircraft repair/modification and incident damage assessments, and mentored young engineers. As a female engineer in a male dominated industry, I have learned to use my voice effectively despite the setbacks and am still learning to navigate this path as best as I can while passing on my learnings to young female engineers and using my experience to make a change with various associations I volunteer with.
My journey into aerospace ended up being different than I imagined. Aerospace goes beyond being the astronaut. Part of breaking through the gender divide is being proud of important accomplishments and not diminishing them. I am honoured to have been recognized as a leading female in aerospace in Canada at the CASI AERO13 Women in Aerospace in Toronto in 2013, been interviewed by various publications such as UVic Business Class magazine, EngineeRing newsletter, and Explore Engineering, been involved with the EGBC “Be Curious Stay Curious” campaign and randomly approached by numerous parents telling me how the video has inspired their children to be active in STEM, and lastly, worked with SCWIST and EGBC to advocate for women and children in STEM.
I have come a long way from a toddler pointing at airplanes in the Tehran sky to supervising an aircraft damage assessment in Japan or repair/modification projects in Argentina, Austria, and Maldives. I love my journey. It has not been an easy or a smooth one, but I can easily say that 38 years later, I have made that two-year-old’s dream of building airplanes come true.
My dad worked in aviation with British Airways, and I fondly remember all his stories about Heathrow Airport's hustle and bustle, which always fascinated me! Being married to a Pilot, it was very natural for me to also pursue a career within this amazing industry. I have been in the aviation sector for twelve years, three years with Viking!
What opportunities have you been a part of that helped make a difference in the industry?
- Be positive - Being positive helps reduce stress, increases productivity, and betters interpersonal relations with others.
- Initiate new ideas - Thinking out-of-the-box may be out of your comfort zone, but this can generate more possibilities.
- Mentoring and coaching others.
- Go the extra mile - Taking the initiative to accomplish tasks without being asked; may also inspire your coworkers. Doing more than what is expected or required can result in business improvements. Others are likely to follow your lead, which ultimately leads to a more productive workplace working well as part of a team.
- Networking - Connecting with others inside and outside of your office and building long-term relationships has been shown to be vital to your career growth.
What do you enjoy most about aviation?
I would say that Aviation is a very challenging industry but is a growing sector at the same time.
- I enjoy the fast pasted environment.
- It keeps you sharp and in-demand.
- We constantly meet new people from other regions – I appreciate and enjoy working with culturally diverse employees.
Some wisdom and inspiration to young girls and women interested in taking their first steps into the aviation world.
For any young ladies and women who are thinking of making a career within aviation, I believe this career path will open many doors to a variety of exclusive career opportunities. The aviation industry also encompasses almost all the activities that will help you facilitate all the aspects of air travel. It's fascinating and certainly a fun industry to be a part of every day!