Not just a glorified bus driver
People say the darndest things. I have actually heard someone say flying for an airline is just like driving a bus! I have also heard it is not a good career choice for women because there is too much travel involved. Cathy Fraser, a captain on the 767 and a director on the board of the Northern Lights Award Foundation, would debate both statements.
September 4, 2015 By Anna Pangrazzi
Fraser has been flying with Air Canada since 1989 and for several years commuted from Houston when her husband worked for NASA. And according to her, there isn’t a better job on the planet. Flying for an airline offers you the challenge of operating big, complex machinery and the pleasure of visiting exotic destinations. And if everything goes well, you also get to make a whole lot of people happy every day. Wings caught up with Fraser to discuss the nuances of her role and the challenges women face in a male-dominated industry.
Why did you choose a career in aviation?
After a visit to a flight deck when I was 10 years old I was hooked! It’s sad that young kids can’t see you working at your job, because I think there is a real lack of visibility of women in the cockpit.
Do you recommend airline flying to young girls?
Absolutely! I talk with young women all the time at Career Day presentations and through my involvement with the Northern Lights Award Foundation and an organization called Women in Aviation. I always give them a long list of reasons why I love my career choice and encourage them to consider aviation.
What advise do you give them?
I encourage them to visit their local airports and take a familiarization flight. There is also an organization that offers women free flights to promote flying during the week of International Women’s Day in March. It’s called WOAW, Women of Aviation Week. I tell them about the Air Cadets, a great Canadian program that offers leadership programs and flight training for young people. I also encourage them to check out the college programs and the military.
What is it about your job that you love so much?
I love that every day I go to work is different: the weather, the aircraft, the crew, the destination. I enjoy every take-off and landing. There is an immense sense of satisfaction from completing a flight. Not to mention, the immediate feedback from a landing.
Did you have any role models or mentors?
When I was learning how to fly, I met Kathy Fox and Lorna de Bliquy, both professional pilots who encouraged me along the way. I remember that when I saw an article in the newspaper about Judy Cameron being the first woman hired by Air Canada, I cut out the article and kept it in my scrapbook. I also joined the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, and have met many amazing women pilots.
Is it hard working in a predominantly male profession?
I would have to say no. I have found the people I work with to be very professional and supportive. I have had many mentors in the airline also. I never really think about the job along gender lines so I am always surprised to get comments from the passengers (mostly positive!) after 26 years.
How do you describe your professional style?
I try to treat people the way I want to be treated, with respect and courtesy. I hope that is how I come off. I prefer a collaborative approach rather than a directive.
What else can be done to get more women into the field of aviation? Do you feel it is important to be a mentor?
I wish I knew the answer to that first question. I have been surprised that the number of women in this field has not been increasing over the years. I do think mentoring is important and I try to be one any chance I get! Recently, I had a pilot come up to me and ask me if I remembered her. She told me she had been a flight attendant and that I had challenged her to pursue a career as a pilot. There she was, a couple of years later in an Air Canada uniform. It made me smile. Obviously she put in the effort but I was proud that I might have had a small role to play in her success!
Anna Pangrazzi is the president and owner of Toronto’s Apex Aviation Sales.
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