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Aviation dreams take off

Cross-country Elevate Aviation tour lands in Fort St. John to inspire career opportunities for young women
Flight Service Specialist Regina Prost gives a group of Dr. Kearney middle school students a tour of the control tower at the North Peace Regional Airport on March 14, 2023.

The airport campus in Fort St. John was buzzing with intrigue and excitement Tuesday as a group of students made their way terminal to tower and hangar to hangar as part of an exclusive tour designed to inspire the next generation of female aviators.

The 42 students from Dr. Kearney and North Peace Secondary schools, as well as a group of homeschoolers, spent the morning meeting and hearing from airport managing director Carolyn Turner, flight service specialists Taylor Moskowitz and Regina Prost, and smokejumper Chelsea Marshall about their careers in the local industry.

After lunch, they were treated to tours of the North Cariboo and North Peace air terminals, the control tower, the fire base, and the Delta Helicopters base. The main purpose of the cross-country tour put on by Elevate Aviation is to encourage young women to pursue careers in aviation and promote diversity within the industry.

“There is a very low percentage of women in all different types of careers in aviation,” said Becky Grimsrud, Fort St John base manager and pilot with Delta Helicopters, who hosted the event, the first held locally since 2019.

Up in the tower, students were treated to spectacular 360-degree views, and learned flight service specialists are responsible for all aircraft landing, departing, or passing within a five mile radius of the airport. They're also responsible for collecting regular weather data and reporting observed conditions to pilots and to Environment Canada.

Weather plays a huge factor in what the specialists do — on a busy day, they may see up to 400 aircraft movements; in bad weather, as few as 30. And on a clear day, they can see all the way to the mountains.

“It’s something different every day. I get to talk to pilots, I get to see cool planes. We’ve had some 737s here and other cool planes,” said Prost, who worked in education in Saskatchewan before switching careers, training in Edmonton and arriving in Fort St. John just over a year ago.

“It’s pretty cool. I enjoy it and I want to get other people involved in it or excited about it. I find not a lot of people know what we do,” said Prost, adding she's also been able to qualify and complete her on-the-job instructor training since moving to Fort St. John.

"It’s provided a lot of opportunities because we’re such a young station," she said.

More than 200,000 passengers came through the North Peace terminal in 2022, and students learned people from all over the world come through the airport.

Carolyn Turner, the airport’s managing director, wanted to be a doctor when she was young. But a chance suggestion by a friend got her involved in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets at the age of 13, where she fell in love with aviation.

“The reason I joined was because one of my friends at school said, Hey, you should join air cadets; you can get your pilot’s licence before your driver’s licence. And I said, Oh, well, I want to do that,” Turner recalled after taking students on a tour of the terminal.

“So I joined and, sure enough, I had two pilot’s licenses before a drivers licence through scholarships from the air cadets,” she said. “You have to work hard to do it, it is competitive, but if you put your everything into it, you can be successful.”

In cadets, youth don’t just learn about flying and aviation, but about air traffic control, survival in the bush, physical fitness, and the military, Turner said.

“It’s just a wonderful, wonderful program that teaches everything from leadership to self discipline to teaching; once you get to be an older cadet, you’re teaching the younger cadets,” Turner said.

“Even if people don’t follow through on an aviation career, the experience of being in any of the cadet programs — land, air, or sea — is phenomenal for a teenager to be involved with.”

Turner turned her experience with the air cadets into a national aviation career, working for the likes of Bombardier Aerospace and Canadian Aviation Electronics, at airports in Toronto, Moose Jaw, and Regina, as well as in air operations for the Yukon government’s wildland fire management brigade.

She arrived in Fort St. John to manage operations of the North Peace Regional Airport in September 2022.

“I’m loving every minute,” she said.

For any students who missed the tour, Grimsrud encourages them to reach out to anyone in the local aviation community — the hangar doors are open.

“We’ve all got a bit of an obsession with it. We’d love to show people around and tell people all about it,” Grimsrud said.

“For anyone that missed out, don’t feel like you can’t ever have this experience. If you show up at the door of somebody’s hangar, they’re probably going to give you a tour.”

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