This week, PAX is profiling a different female pilot every day in recognition of Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week (WOAW), a global initiative for girls of all ages that addresses gender imbalance in the air and space industry and marks the anniversary of the world’s first female pilot licence (March 8th, 1910).
Micheline Metcalfe remembers sitting in the flight deck of a Dash 8 aircraft when she was just eight-years-old, soaring over Northern Ontario on a flight to Sault Ste. Marie, after a pilot kindly invited her to join the crew up front.
As some may recall, thrilling opportunities like that were allowed in the days preceding 9/11.
“I remember going through the clouds and being able to see everything to then seeing absolutely nothing,” Metcalfe, now 43, tells PAX. “I remember coming out of the clouds and the airport being right in front of us.”
It was in that defining moment that Metcalfe realized she wanted to become a pilot, a profession she pursued and enjoys today as a Boeing 787 First Officer and Boeing wide-body standard pilot at Air Canada.
It’s the type of job where “you never do the same day twice,” says Metcalfe, who’s heavily involved in Air Canada’s day-to-day flights and operations, in addition to being responsible for standardization amongst the airline’s 777, 787, 767 Boeing aircrafts.
“You’re always flying somewhere different, the weather is always different. The passengers are always different,” she says. “It’s never routine.”
While she didn’t necessarily come from an aviation family, Metcalfe started researching her options in high school, and eventually headed to the University of Windsor to obtain her Bachelor of Science degree.
Once she had her diploma, she immediately signed up for flying school in Kitchener-Waterloo.
“Flying school was a lot of hard work, but fantastic fun,” Metcalfe recalls, remembering her first solo flight and how “quiet and peaceful” it was.
The extensive and ongoing training that goes into being a pilot is a common misconception about the profession, she says.
“It’s one of those jobs where you’re always learning,” says Metcalfe. “Things are always changing in terms of technology. It’s constantly a learning environment.”
While her position at Air Canada has afforded her the thrills of steering epic flights to Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Asia-Pacific, South America and Australia, Metcalfe’s most memorable flight to date was just this past December when her nine-year-old daughter, Isla, joined her and her husband on a flight to London Heathrow.
“It was her first overseas flight and first flight with me actually flying,” says Metcalfe, whose daughter had the opportunity to see the flight deck and cabin first-hand before general boarding started. “It was memorable.”
The skies ahead
After 22 years in the business, Metcalfe says women in aviation have come a long way, even though there’s still work to be done.
Today, she says she still encounters people who say “they’ve never seen a female pilot, nor have they ever had a female pilot fly one of their flights.”
She credits the pioneers that came before her, and supportive role models, for helping get her career off the ground.
“The Canadian aviation industry has a very strong tight-knit group of women, from military pilots to airline pilots,” says Metcalfe. “I was fortunate to have a couple of airline pilots take me under their wings when I was getting started.”
Air Canada has taken strides in introducing women to aviation, as was seen last November when it invited a group of young women to visit Air Canada’s maintenance hangars in Montreal.
The event showcased women in positions across all organizational levels at Air Canada, giving students as young as age 15 an opportunity to learn more about different aviation careers, such as piloting, aircraft maintenance, engineering, technical writing as well as roles in Systems Operations Control.
“At Air Canada, we are dedicated to ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in the organization,” Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, senior vice president, people, culture and communications at Air Canada, said at the time.
Women of Aviation Worldwide Week is about honouring females of the past and “celebrating what we’re doing now,” Metcalfe says, urging aspiring female pilots to simply “go for it.”
It's encouraging words that could, one day, lead to seeing more women working in aviation at your local terminal.
Unless you’re Metcalfe’s daughter, who, in growing up with a pilot Mom, is used to seeing women in uniform:
“When our daughter was three, she was in the terminal with me at work,” Metcalfe recalls. “Two gentlemen I worked with, who were pilots [in uniform], approached us to say hello, and my daughter tugged on my arm and said, ‘Mummy, mummy! They’re wearing your clothes!’ I turned to her, and said, ‘Mom works with them.’ She then looked back at me, and said, ‘Boys can fly?!’”
Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week is from March 4-10.
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