Women In Aviation Event In Kelowna A Hit!

On Monday March 2nd, after months of planning by BCGA’s Pamela Nelson the Okanagan College hosted a successful event with exhibitors and panel discussions lead by successful women in aviation. This event was followed by a screening of the award winning documentary “The Man Who Wanted to Fly” Had the 81 year old lead character been a lady it might have been more fitting however the overarching theme of the film was that it is never too late to realize your dreams. 

The details of the event were eloquently captured by The Daily Courier journalist Steve MacNaull

Article from: The Daily Courier
Steve MacNaull Mar 3, 2020


Kelowna-based WestJet pilot Rhea Mackay helped kick off Women in Aviation Week on Monday as part of an all-female panel at the Kelowna campus of Okanagan College.

Rhea Mackay is one of the first women pilots to be hired by WestJet.

She is also one of the first women to fly the Boeing 737 Next Generation jet for WestJet.

And Mackay was one of the first women to pilot a Boeing 787 Dreamliner when WestJet started to take delivery of the long-haul beauty last year.

In fact, Mackay’s upcoming duties include flying the Dreamliner to Hawaii, London, Paris, Rome and Dublin.

“Up in the air at 40,000 feet is an amazing place to have your office,” said Kelowna-based Mackay. “The sunsets and the sunrises are pretty incredible.”

Mackay was on the all-female panel to kick off Women in Aviation Week on Monday at the Kelowna campus of Okanagan College.

The five others on the panel provided a cross-section of how women are making their mark on aviation in Kelowna and around the world.

Tracy Medve is the president of KF Aerospace (formerly Kelowna Flightcraft), the city’s largest private-sector employer, with 800 staff doing aircraft maintenance and retrofitting, charters and cargo flights from its hangars beside Kelowna International Airport.

Shayne Dyrdal is finance and corporate services manager at Kelowna International Airport.

Laura Mortenson is an aerospace engineer and consultant with Curiosity Analysis.

Kimberley Alaric is a pilot and student in Okanagan College’s commercial aviation diploma program.

And Desarae Craig is a student in the college’s aircraft maintenance engineering program.

Rapidly growing KF Aerospace hires almost all of the aircraft maintenance engineering graduates from the college.

Growing up in Grand Forks, Mackay dreamed of being an astronaut.

But that went out the window as she got older and a high school guidance counsellor told her she’d be best suited to be a teacher.

So, in 1992, Mackay enrolled in general arts at Okanagan College in Kelowna to start on an education degree.

“I started to meet people at the college who were in the commercial aviation program,” she said.

“I didn’t even know it was a thing. But, I made friends with them and they would take me up with them as they put in their hours of flying. By 1994, I switched to commercial aviation and graduated as a pilot in 1996.”

Mackay was one of two women in the program, which had classes of only 11 then.

Her first job was with Carson Air in Kelowna, flying some charters in small twin-engine propeller planes.

A move to Calgary saw her working for Sunwest, flying cargo and workers to the oilpatch in eight- and 16-passenger twin-engine prop planes.

A job with Air Nova (now Air Canada Jazz) in Halifax saw Mackay flying regularly scheduled passenger planes, mostly 37-seat Dash 8-100 and 50-seat Dash 8-300 props.

In 2003, she applied for and landed a job with WestJet as only the fourth woman the airline had hired as a pilot.

Since then, WestJet has been aggressive in hiring women pilots, and now it has 152 women flying planes.

That amounts to 7.1% of its total 2,148 pilots.

That may not sound like a lot, but it’s more than the industry average of 5%.

The airline industry internationally is striving to have women become 10% of its pilots over the next few years.

WestJet is hiring and training more women pilots in part because its Encore division, using 76-seat Bombardier Q400 turbo-propeller planes on short-haul routes like Kelowna-Vancouver and Kelowna-Calgary, provides many entry-level jobs.

While Mackay lives in Kelowna with her fiance and her 10-year-old son, her work base is Calgary so she can pilot the big Dreamliners in and out of the bigger international airport there.

“After many years, living out of a suitcase has lost some of its glamour,” said Mackay.

“But I love flying a plane and the pay is good. I’ve been able to make my schedule work for me and I tend to work half the month and be home half the month. My son is 10, and all he’s ever known is me being a pilot and he likes it. We still have lots of family time. In fact, I’m taking him to hockey this afternoon.”

Mackay’s sage career advice for young women is to follow their dreams, have confidence, believe in themselves and work hard.

“By working hard, being humble but proud, you can accomplish almost anything,” she said.