Author, Interpretation and Programs Officer, Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Ten high school students from Nunavik, had the chance to learn about exciting opportunities in the aviation and space sector through a three-day Aviation Career Exploration Tour.
Through a collaboration between Air Inuit, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the youth — along with four chaperones — were treated to a whirlwind, career-focused tour of Montreal and Ottawa in February 2020.
“To some, Air Inuit is just another airline, while to others it’s the future!” says Eli Jr. Aupalu, an 18-year-old participant from Iguarsivik School in Puvirnituq. “For me, Air Inuit is the gateway to the future for young Inuit children and teenagers who would like to become a pilot; it gives me the inspiration to pursue a career in aviation.”
The Nunavik youth were selected for the Aviation Career Exploration Tour based on their written submissions, which challenged them to reflect on Air Inuit’s impact on their respective communities.
On many of the tour stops, the youth were welcomed by partners from the Canadian Aero/Space Skills Network. This growing network is a blend of government, industry, school boards, and museums with a common goal: to nurture youth to pursue opportunities in aviation and aerospace.
“Meeting Eli and hearing him speak so enthusiastically about his dream to become a pilot was a powerful moment for me,” says Chris Kitzan, Director General of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. “These youth embody our collective hope for the future of the aviation and aerospace sector, which is now facing a looming personnel shortage.”
The Aviation Career Exploration Tour started in Ottawa at the Aero Mag 2000 de-icing facility, then went on to Canadian North, where they saw a team working on a plane that services Kuujjuaq. Next, the group went to the Centre for Air Travel Research at the National Research Council, followed by a stop at the Canadian Museum of Nature where the youth enjoyed the Canada Goose Arctic Gallery exhibition.
At the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the teens were treated to some hands-on science demonstrations. They tried the museum’s Redbird FMX flight simulator, and tested Minerva Prime, a virtual reality game currently in development by Algonquin College students. The tour group also met with students of Algonquin’s Aircraft Maintenance Technician diploma program, who do the majority of their practical coursework at the museum.
In Montreal, the youth toured the Air Inuit hangar, the Cosmodome, and CAE Inc., which manufactures flight simulators and training devices. At the Airbus facility, the group went on a special access tour of the A220 Program assembly line — a coveted, rarely-seen tour.
During the tour, partners from the Canadian Aero/Space Skills Network introduced the students to employees working in different sectors of the aviation and aerospace industry. A highlight for 17-year-old Pasha Lauzon was meeting Melissa Haney, who started off as a flight attendant with Air Inuit before becoming a pilot. Haney also leads Sparrows, Air Inuit’s pilot training program targeted at Nunavimmiut.
“Melissa Haney is an inspiration to me,” says Lauzon, who attends Jaanimmarik Secondary School in Kuujjuaq. “She was the first captain on the Dash and she is an Inuk; she is also the teacher of the Sparrows project. She is a role model for all young Inuit women who want to become pilots.”
The students listened intently as Haney talked about behind-the-scenes operations at Air Inuit. She encouraged them to finish their schooling and consider applying for the various careers in the airline industry, including the Sparrows program.
From avionics and mechanics to understanding testing and development, the participants embraced each experience with excitement and enthusiasm. A few of the youth displayed skills that impressed flight simulator instructors from CAE Inc. and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
The Aviation Career Exploration Tour was very informative for the young Nunavummiut and their chaperones; it offered a close-up look at the immense infrastructure required to service the large populations of cities in southern Canada. For those living in remote communities, however, air transportation can be a matter of life and death during medical emergencies.
The 13 provincially owned airports that service the youth’s remote communities are nothing like the federal airports in Montreal (YUL), Ottawa (YOW), Iqaluit (YFB), and Kuujjuaq (YVP). In Nunavik, gravel runways are challenged by wildlife, extremely high winds, and a lack of radar equipment. These remote locations also face climate change erosion; dense travelling fog banks are created by melting Greenlandic glaciers and rising ocean temperatures.
These factors are all reminders of the work that lies ahead for the Nunavik workforce of the future, and the Inuit-owned airline industry. Ongoing work will be required for the development, testing, and implementation of new solutions to ensure safety during Arctic transport of food supplies, evacuations, and services for their communities — both for regular flights and in case of emergencies.
Recently, the Quebec government announced it will invest $42.5 million by 2022 to maintain and improve the Nunavik airport system. This is just a fraction of what will be required to plan for the future. Looking ahead, securing much-needed investments in infrastructure will be crucial to ensuring equitable services for the next generations of people living in Nunavik.
As the 10 students returned to Nunavik after the Aviation Career Exploration Tour, each of them reflected an understanding of the importance of the aviation sector and excitement for a world of possible opportunities.
“I want to become a pilot; the aircraft reminds me of freedom!” says 15-year-old Akulia Anowak, from Kiluutaq School in Umiujaq. “When I am a pilot, I will speak in three languages; Inuktitut, French, and English.
“I would like to be part of the Air Inuit team of pilots that will fly the planes of the future, which will operate without gas.”