Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is happening worldwide. It’s easy to gather global information, but it’s worth zooming in on Canada to see what is happening in the country. And that’s what this three-part series will do. The first part focused on companies. The second part focused on academia. And this third and final part will focus on people because AAM, like any other field, is only as strong as the people involved.
So please fasten your seatbelts and return your tray table to its full upright and locked position; we’re ready to take off.
AAM in Canada: Part 3: Jo-Anne Tabobandug
As the Northern Lights Aero Foundation writes in its wall of fame,
Jo-Anne is the Dean of Aviation at the First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. FNTI delivers the only Indigenous post-secondary Aviation program in Canada, serving First Nations, Metis and Inuit people from coast-coast-coast. Jo-Anne graduated from the program in 1992 and has flown for the company Charter service and held the position of Chief Flight Instructor for 14 years. As Dean of Aviation, she oversees the Flight Training Unit, Academic department, and the Approved Maintenance Organization. A champion of students and the Bear clan of the Mohawk Nation, Jo-Anne ensures a cooperative, inclusive, and culturally relevant class environment and creates learning and employment opportunities by building strong partnerships throughout the aviation industry.
Tabobandug figures in the wall of fame because in 2021, she was the recipient of the Elsie Macgill Education Award given by the foundation.
In an interview with Bruce Bell, Tabobandug explained her reaction when hearing she’d won,
A colleague and a student nominated me, which was a huge process […] But I’ve been to the gala before, and usually, the recipients are doctors or aerospace engineers, so I didn’t think I would be selected from a group like that. It was just so nice that they would take the time and make such a huge effort to nominate me. I was so excited when I was told I would receive the award.
Tabobandug is living proof that by giving equal opportunity, indigenous women can thrive. And that they will use their success to inspire others, as she does in the First Peoples’ Aviation Technology: Flight program that historically has more than 35% female students. Tabobandug also participated in the 2021 Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM) Uplift Event: Indigenous Peoples in AAM: Where is the opportunity? And the organization was thrilled to have her as a speaker sharing her knowledge with all the attendees.
AAM in Canada: Part 3: Alisha Sohpaul
In March 2019, Teara Fraser made history by becoming the first Indigenous woman in Canada to launch her airline, Iskwew Air. Consequently, Iskwew Air made history by becoming the first airline owned and operated by an indigenous woman.
But making history once isn’t enough for Fraser and Iskwew Air; in 2021, the company officially became an Aircraft Maintenance Organization (AMO)—meaning that the company is certified to fix others’ aircraft. And the person chosen to lead this new venture was Alisha Sohpaul.
Representation matters. I recently became the person responsible for maintenance at Iskwew Air, and it was such an emotional moment once I heard I had passed my exam. At that moment, with tears running down my face, I knew that 1. this was bigger than me and 2. we had just opened the door for so many women who might have thought they could not hold the same title. […] When people see someone that looks like them, it can really help them realize they can do this too,” she said. Aircraft maintenance is not a common job that you hear about at your average career fair, so it’s so important to me that I not only represent women in my field but encourage young females to pursue careers in aviation.
Sohpaul is a licensed M1 & M2 Aircraft Maintenance Engineer and is proud to be one of the 2% of female Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (AME) in Canada. She has been working in the industry for the past eight years and is passionate about giving back to the industry by encouraging young females to pursue careers in aviation. She’s a mentor with Elevate Aviation. Sohpaul also serves on the Youth Engagement Committee with the British Columbia Aviation Council.
Sohpaul’s day-to-day work at Iskwew, plus all the effort she puts into mentoring and serving on the Youth Engagement Committee of the British Columbia Aviation Council, help to create a more diverse, equal, and inclusive aviation community. And her endeavours truly help the aviation community as a whole, not only specific jobs,
I think we need to start informing girls at a young age about these different career options. The issue is that young girls aren’t being exposed to this side of aviation. Like myself, I didn’t even know this was a career, let alone a career option for women. When people think about aviation, they tend to think about pilots and flight attendants as the only careers, but that’s not the case. I think shedding more light on the uncommon careers (ex: air traffic controller, maintenance controller & AME) and having female representation at career fairs or just showcasing women within companies is also super important.
Iskwew Air is a founding member of CAAM. The organization couldn’t be prouder of everything these force-of-nature women such as Fraser and Sohpaul are doing for aviation and the whole world.
Those are only two, among many, women building, planning, and changing for the best AAM in Canada.
And please, don’t forget to fasten your seatbelts and return your tray table to its full upright and locked position; we’re taking off.
By Giovani Izidorio Cesconetto