British Columbia

Canada's 1st female-founded Indigenous airline launches on International Women's Day

Canada's first airline to be started by an Indigenous woman launched in Vancouver on Friday — on International Women's Day.

Iskwew Air will offer small charter flights to remote communities

Teara Fraser, CEO of Iskwew Air. Iskwew means woman in Cree. She says her airline, which launched in Vancouver Friday, is Canada's first Indigenous female-founded and operated airline. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

Canada's first airline to be started by an Indigenous woman launched in Vancouver on Friday — on International Women's Day.

"It's time," said Teara Fraser, CEO of Iskwew Air, which means woman in Cree.

Fraser, who is Métis, said she chose the name deliberately in celebration of women and matriarchal leadership.

The airline will fly charter services in its single Piper Navajo plane and aims to expand into a multi-plane operation within the next few years.

The airline's first partnership is with Homalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours based in Campbell River, where it will help provide remote nature tours. 

The interior of the Iskwew Air aircraft in Vancouver on March 8, 2019. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

Inspiring youth

Along with the launch, the airline also announced it is partnering with an organization called Give Them Wings. The initiative is designed to inspire Indigenous youth of all genders into careers in aviation. 

"We are facing a looming human resource shortage in the aviation industry," Fraser said. 

"There is potential for this shortage to have significant impacts on Indigenous communities should commercial providers find themselves unable to service remote and Northern routes." 

Teara Fraser inspecting the first plane of Iskwew Air in what she hopes will be a large fleet in the future. (CBC)

Fraser hopes that as a female pilot herself, she can help encourage young women to enter the aviation industry. 

In Canada, fewer than six per cent of pilots are women, according to the B.C. Aviation Council. 

"We have made great strides in advancing gender equality in aviation," said chair Heather Bell.

"I long for the day when we don't feel the need to celebrate this gender difference," she said.