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CWIA 2017 conference showcased top women in aviation

It was a chance to network, talk about flying and do a progress check. The three-day Canadian Women in Aviation (CWIA) drew dozens, including some pioneers in the industry.


June 26, 2017
By CBC News

Forty-four years ago, Rosella Bjornson was first in line.

In 1973 she was hired by Transair out of Winnipeg to be first officer on an F28.

“At that time I became the first woman hired by an airline as first officer on jet equipment in North America,” Bjornson said.

She says a lot has changed since that time, but women need to continue pushing.

“Aviation is very challenging. It is just a wonderful career choice and there is no reason why a woman can’t do it. Women need to take responsibility for their own decisions and their own career paths.”

That’s exactly what 21-year-old Stephanie Hepburn is doing. She’s going for her commercial pilot licence at the Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre in Ontario.

“I know that we have kind of had a struggle getting there, but now that we are here, it is just such an inspiration to me just to see these women, how many there are sitting in this room right now,” Hepburn said.

“That pushes me even further. Even though I have my own confidence, I know that they are there to back me up and I can do it too.”

Hepburn says being the only woman in her class hasn’t really affected her.

“I didn’t even consider, ‘Oh, I am the only girl in my class, I can’t do it.’ I just had the idea, I want to be a pilot and I am going to do it. I just went for it. Even with the guys in my class now, I have never felt different than them or lesser than them.”

Micky Colton joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1980. While she retired from the regular forces in 2011, she flew the C-130 Hercules for 27 years.

She attended the first conference in Fort Langley, B.C., in 1991 and has not missed one since. Despite being a conference about women in aviation, she was one of only two women in attendance at the time.

“It was very lonely at the beginning,” Colton said. “There wasn’t very many of us. It’s a really good way for women to understand that they are not alone.”

She says dynamics between the genders was very different at that time.

“The guys would like to be friends with you but they are always a little nervous about being friends with you and vice versa. We were such an unusual thing when it started. So you were lonely basically.”

Colton says while harassment is still a challenge, the culture of the air force has evolved.

“There are many more venues now for women to say something about it. There is a much broader understanding across the male members about what is allowed and what isn’t allowed,” she said.

“Women made our Canadian air force a much more professional place to work because we changed the tone.”