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On Aug.17, thousands of people descended upon the Region of Waterloo International Airport to take in the sights and sounds of Aviation Fun Day.
Now in its fifth year, the event offered up educational experiences which highlighted every aspect of the industry, from terminal operations to flying an aircraft, and everything in between.
Held across four stations throughout the airport’s campus, the day was the perfect opportunity for anyone curious about what a career in aviation entails to learn about the ins and outs of the industry. People of all ages were offered the chance to inquire about all things aviation – including maintenance, airport operations and mechanical engineering.
In the first station, hosted by 822 Tutor Squadron at the Cadet Youth Development Centre, young aviation fans had a wealth of interactive material to learn from. The biggest attractions in this area were the simulators, set up to educate children about all aspects of the industry – there were sims for flight, air traffic control, unmanned vehicles, air-to-sea rescue, and aerospace engineering. Every facet of the industry was highlighted in the cadet centre in a way that would engage youth visitors.
The second station – at Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre – was just as interactive as the first. As a diverse fleet of training aircraft sat on the ramp, along with the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s DC-3, spectators were able to get up close and personal with the planes. According to Bob Connors, general manager of Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre, these experiences were exactly what the organizers had hoped for.
“There are not very many opportunities for people to touch airplanes and so this is an opportunity for them to meet aviation professionals, to see airplanes, to get into a little airplane and historic airplanes,” explained Connors. “It’s a nice family day out and then it’s an opportunity to see something about aviation, and not just professional aviation, but personal [as well] … There were lots of privately owned airplanes available and people could get in them and talk to the owner and private pilot[s].”
While the day offered up the chance for fans to get close to planes and the teams who work to keep them operational, it also provided the industry something in return – exposure.
“I would say in terms of initiatives that offer an interactive look into an industry, aviation seems to be behind a cloak in terms of opportunity awareness, and I don’t just say for youth, I say career opportunities for all ages,” said Ramona Ostrander, flight co-ordinator with Flite Line Services, a fixed-base operator housed on the airport’s grounds. “Every function and role that exists in any business exists within this industry and it’s never really been promoted or perceived to offer career choices beyond the pilot and flight attendant roles; not everyone wants to be on the front lines of flight. These events let them see the broader scope and the fact that aviation is like every other industry, that is supported by requirements for administration, accounting, strategic planning, marketing, operations, trades, sales, public relations, advocating, all of the elements that exists in a business, exist in aviation.”
Those opportunities were exhibited throughout the grounds, particularly in the third station – the terminal building. Housed within it were displays and tables to educate attendees on terminal operations and border services. To gauge interest from those less inclined to inquire about the industry was a crew dressed up as Star Wars characters, posing for pictures with children, along with a contest for the adults – a raffle for a chance to win a round trip to any WestJet destination. The mix of fun and educational material at the event was designed to broaden its reach and spread the message further, something Ostrander feels everyone in the industry is accountable for.
“Every airport, every person in aviation, has a responsibility to share the diverse opportunities when there is such a shortage ahead, and currently, within aviation” she explained. “We all have to be a voice for the industry so that it gains the exposure and awareness it deserves and that, quite frankly, people are afforded opportunities to learn of where aviation can take them in their career. There are fantastic opportunities.”
The opportunities are out there, but it’s no secret that the industry faces a major talent shortage – especially female talent. At the Flight Centre, the Northern Lights Aero Foundation presented its case to young women who may be curious about working in aviation by presenting successful Canadian women within the industry. Connors, an industry veteran, believes these refined recruiting efforts are important in tackling the labour shortage.
“We had Northern Lights Foundation here and what they’re all about is to celebrate and recognize women who have done outstanding contributions in the field of aviation,” explained Connors. “[But] there’s very low female participation [in the industry] … There’s lots of opportunity there and the old days of having to be ‘real strong and macho’ has changed. On both sides, it’s intelligent work.”
Ostrander, who was in the fourth station, which housed the jet warbird fleet of the Waterloo Warbirds — a Canadair CT-133, a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 UTI, the de Havilland Vampire Mk 55 and an Aero L-29 Delfin — recalled a moment during the event in which she was speaking among a crowd of attentive children. Moments like those, she believes, should be the industry’s takeaway from an event like this.
“The youth are watching,” she said. “The takeaway from being able to open our doors and invite the public in, is the chance to share what it is we contribute to our communities and unleash young minds’ imagination of where the future can take them outside of the cockpit, too. This is an investment into our industry. Engaged airports build awareness, collaboration and connection across the community they belong to, deepening an understanding of its role in delivering positive economic impact and community success; by demonstrating it is far more than just the place to go, to get away.”
Engaging and connecting with those not directly involved with — or previously interested in — aviation will be an important step forward as the industry seeks to stem off staffing shortages, and recruit much-needed new talent.