Amelia Kerr; Toronto
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
I would normally say, “I work in the aviation industry.” The lucky person guesses at what I do, but for some reason never guesses that I am a pilot! The statement always comes with sentiments of shock and awe; I guess people are still surprised to see women in the flight deck. At Porter Airlines, where I fly, 13 percent of our pilots are female, compared to five percent for the overall industry.
I am a First Officer on the Bombardier Q400 for Porter. The Captain and I share flight duties; one of us flies the aircraft while the other handles radio communication and manages the on-board computer system. On the next flight, we swap duties. We fly a variety of routes to 23 destinations across eastern Canada and the U.S. Every day is different! One day there is fog in St. John’s, and the next I’m landing in high-paced Newark, NJ. It’s a challenging position that always keeps you thinking ahead. The view isn’t too bad either.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
My background with horses led me to study equine science, remotely, at the University of Guelph, but I quickly realized that it was more of a hobby than a career. I enrolled in the Airline Training Program offered by Montair Aviation shortly thereafter. When I completed my commercial license, I continued my Multi-Engine and IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) endorsements with Pacific Flying Club, followed by my Instructor Rating with Canadian Flight Centre. All of these schools are based out of Boundary Bay Airport, in Delta, BC.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
At 16, I was happily employed at various equestrian estates in the Greater Vancouver area. I had just bought a young green gelding named King, so it was a great fit for me. My time working with horses taught me patience, responsibility and management skills. It also made me determined when it came to falling off and literally getting back on the horse.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
High school left me feeling labelled as a less-than-average student. A friend and I were discussing what we were going to do with our lives. Flying came up, something that I knew I was interested in after a number of years with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets during my teens. My online studies at Guelph were going well, but I wanted something a little more hands-on. Later that day, we stopped at Montair Aviation; I signed up and left with an armful of books; no introductory flight required! I knew I would love it. Within a matter of days, I moved to Tsawwassen, B.C., a community close to the school, and immersed myself in the environment. I was excited by the challenge and studied from open until close. One day, a gentleman came to me and said, “You have the most amazing work ethic; if you’re ever in need of a job, let me know.” I was so proud.
Six months later, I called in that favour and within a matter of months I became the first office manager and ferry pilot for Halcyon Aviation—an aircraft sales and leasing business in Delta, BC. A ferry pilot picks up an aircraft from one destination and takes it to another; in my case I imported aircraft from the U.S. into Canada. Albany, NY, Washington, DC, and Phoenix were a few of my pick-up locations.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
After a 10-month break from flying, a good friend and former colleague reached out to me with a potential opportunity. A phone interview confirmed my position and two weeks later I was qualified to operate a Cessna 206, flying as a bush pilot based out of Fort Simpson, NT. The north is raw and adventurous. It re-ignited my passion to fly in a very meaningful way. I realized that if I could learn and adapt in this environment, then I could learn to do anything.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
Taking on too much. It’s a lesson I fortunately learned in the first couple years of my career. When I began flying, I was enrolled in online courses from the University of Guelph, while also working weekends at the equestrian centre to support my horse, King. I was keen on business and I spent a lot of time in the office. It’s very easy to underappreciate a healthy work/life balance. Knowing your personal limit is really important. To gain control of this I simply applied the notion that you can be good at many things or great at some things. I decided to narrow my focus to more flying, less office work—more horseback riding, less online courses; it didn’t take long for things to feel more balanced.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
Don’t give into self-doubt; make a plan, do your homework and pursue your goals.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
That I would be successful in my career because I’m a woman in a male-dominated field.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
In my early flying days, a company hesitated to hire me because of the idea that a female couldn’t load heavy fuel drums into an aircraft. The owner’s wife caught wind and supported my employment. I’m naturally a hard worker, but part of me intended to prove him wrong. I think I was successful as they continued hiring women after my departure.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
Aviation is a seniority-based industry. You begin as a First Officer and at a year-one salary regardless of your experience, gender, age, etc. Your pay is predictable and increases both with years of service and with promotions. For extra cash, I simply pick up a couple of flights on my days off. It’s a nice option to have!
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
Sense of entitlement is one you hear time and again. I’ve worked my butt off to get where I am and, from my experience, I can say that there are people both younger and older who are down-to-earth and hardworking, just as there are people who are out of touch with reality. Stereotypes are exactly that, stereotypes.