Eighteen female students from David Stoddart School (DSS) in Clinton will be taking to the skies in Abbotsford March 12–13, as they join more than 2,000 girls and women in the “The Sky’s No Limit: Girls Fly Too!” event. It’s the world’s largest outreach event to inspire future female leaders in Aviation, Aerospace, Marine, and Defence.
It’s the brainchild of B.C. pilot Kirsten Brazier, who flies helicopters and fixed-wing planes. She wanted to share her passion for aviation with other girls and women, and energize them to explore the opportunities available to them in aviation.
Out of 24,505 professional pilots in Canada, only 1,356 are women. Out of 19,601 aircraft engineers, only 560 are women. Less than three per cent of the technical positions in the Royal Canadian Air Force, such as pilots or maintenance technicians, are held by women. Studies have shown that this isn’t because women are unwelcome in these fields; it’s because the perception persists that aviation and aerospace jobs are for men. “The Sky’s No Limit: Girls Fly Too!” was started to try to change this perception, by specifically welcoming girls and women to the airport and giving them an interactive, hands-on introduction aviation.
“I started the program in 2012, when I was living and flying in Yellowknife,” says Brazier. “I had 420 girls and women take part that year. Last year, in Abbotsford, it took two months to fill 1,800 spots. This year, after one tweet about the 2016 event, the advance registration of more than 2,000 spots was filled in 24 hours.”
This year’s event will bring together representatives from aviation, aerospace, marine, and defence from Canada and the United States. Ten helicopters will be taking participants on flights, while the Canadian and U.S. Air Force and Navy and the R.C.M.P. are sending aircraft. The BCIT aerospace and marine campuses will be represented, and Northern Lights Community College will let people have a hands-on look at the maintenance aspect of aviation.
One of the guests will be retired U.S. astronaut and Navy pilot Wendy Lawrence, and the R.C.M.P. will be bringing their integrated dog training unit and clandestine lab.
“The entire event is free,” says Brazier, who wants to show girls that there is a career for them in aviation. To accomplish that, she’s tried to make the event less like a typical air show. “Most people who come to our event aren’t into cool aircraft. When the girls and women land they’re really interested and excited. They can see that this might be their future.” She adds that the event is open to anyone interested in aviation, male or female.
Carol Pickering, Principal at David Stoddart, says that this is the first time the school has taken part in the event. “We get lots of stuff about possible events by e-mail, and I pass it along to the teachers to see if they want to jump in. A couple of teachers here thought that this was a good opportunity for girls in our community; we don’t usually have access to this sort of thing.”
There was lots of excitement in the school when the event was announced. “We had a line-up when it came time for signing up, because we’d capped attendance at 18 people,” says Pickering.
Brazier expects that more than 15,000 people will attend the event in March. “We’ve already set three world precedents. No one else is doing this sort of event. It’s all about difference, diversity, and acceptance. From shop floor to top floor, we’re inspiring future leaders.”