Learning centre at Edmonton airport will help women find careers in aviation

A learning centre opening at Edmonton International Airport early next year will include a program focused on drawing young women into the aviation industry.

‘There's a huge shortage in the aviation industry right now,’ says centre founder

Commercial airline pilot Syona McClean poses with the Grey Cup in the cockpit of a plane she flies. (Syona McClean)

A learning centre opening at Edmonton International Airport early next year will include a program focused on drawing young women into the aviation industry.

The program will help girls and women ages 15 to 24 find opportunities in the industry and connect with employers.

It's the first program of its kind in Canada, the learning centre's founder said Wednesday.

"There's a huge shortage in the aviation industry right now," said Kendra Kincade, an air-traffic controller and founder of Elevate Aviation.

"We personally want to help women succeed and offer careers where they can have economic security."

Women are under-represented in Canada's aviation industry. Fewer than five per cent of commercial pilots are women. Sixteen per cent of air traffic controllers are women. Women make up 11 per cent of aerospace engineers, Kincade said.

Kendra Kincade, founder of Elevate Aviation, says the learning centre wants to help women succeed in aviation careers. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Kincade expects hands-on learning may get young women interested in aviation when they enrol.

They will be able to "actually sit and play at a radar screen and let them practice being an air traffic controller," Kincade said. "Let them get in behind the actual scenes of the airport and I think that will just ignite some excitement."

Syona McClean, a pilot for the past decade, currently flies a 737 for Canadian North. McClean is planning to be one of the mentors involved in the centre's program for women.

She's proud to be a female pilot.

"There's not too many of us out there," McClean said. "You see a few more now. It's pretty amazing. You get to be one of the few females that are working in aviation in a male-dominated industry and you know what? The guys treat you like one of the guys and it's pretty awesome."

She said it wasn't easy to become a pilot, and thinks prospective employees will benefit from the new program.

"When I was younger it would have been nice, for sure, to have a learning centre where I could go up and say, 'Hey, what am I getting myself into?"

The Elevate Aviation Learning Centre will be located in a hangar next to the Edmonton International Airport. It's expected to open in March.

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

@Travismcewancbc