How can Canada curb a pilot shortage? Get girls interested in flying early

Aviation groups are hoping that a weekend event in Ottawa will help curb Canada's pilot shortage by getting young girls and women interested in flying.

Weekend event in Ottawa aims to get young women into the pilot's seat

The Canada Council for Aviation and Aerospace wants to get more women into the pilot's seat. 0:26

Aviation groups are hoping that a weekend event in Ottawa will help curb Canada's pilot shortage by getting young girls and women interested in flying.

The air travel demand is so high Canada should be producing 300 more pilots each year, according to report released earlier this year by the Canada Council for Aviation and Aerospace.

There are also more pilots reaching retirement, as well as a general global shortage of pilots.

That's why the Ninety-Nines and the Rockcliffe Flying Club are trying to get more young women enthused about flying with their Girls Take Flight event, which has been held at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum for the past six years. 

'Great time' to take up flying

On Saturday, local pilots took participants on a 15-to-20-minute flight across the Ottawa River and over Pink Lake in the Gatineau Hills.

[The event] opens doors that I didn't know were there.- Kate Henbest, 28, who took her first flight in a small plane

"It's just enough time to give them a real good sense of what's going on, but not [be] overwhelming as well," said Sharron Lutman, who's been a pilot for 19 years.

Lutman works with the Ninety-Nines, an international organization that promotes flying for women and girls.

While Canadian airlines are making strides to include more female pilots, women make up only six percent of the total number of pilots worldwide.

"We want to increase that, but it's even more important right now because there is a pilot shortage going on," Lutman said.

"So it's a great time to get into a career as a pilot or a mechanic or in air traffic control."

Kate Henbest said she never knew being a pilot could have been a career choice because she wears glasses, but this weekend's event has now piqued her interest in flying. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)
Pilots used a number of small planes, including a Piper Arrow, Piper Cherokee and Cessna 172, to give young girls and women the chance to fly in something other than a commercial aircraft. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

'I can't stop smiling'

Kate Henbest, 28, went up in a small four-seater plane for the first time Saturday.

She said she had no idea there were options available to her in the aviation industry.

"I actually always thought, because I had glasses, I couldn't be a pilot. But I was told that that's not the case," she said.

Alison Caron, 12, said she's considered becoming a pilot and that the experience of going up in a small plane has further piqued her interest.

"I can't stop smiling," she said.

Melissa Haney has been a pilot for 14 years and was the first Inuk captain for Air Inuit. She flies a Dash-8 plane (like the model she's holding) for the company. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

More than just pilots needed 

The event also promoted other potential careers in the industry, like working as a mechanic, an engineer or an air traffic controller.

Melissa Haney first became a flight attendant before quickly realizing she wanted to be at the controls.

"When I first sat in the jumpseat with the pilots as a flight attendant, I knew that I had wanted to change careers. And then just kept going and never looked back," said Haney, who would go on to become the first female Inuk captain for Air Inuit.

She now works with Elevate Aviation, a not-for-profit organization which offers women interested in the industry support.