The Sky’s the Limit

The sky’s the limit: Manitoba Indigenous woman forging promising career in aviation, helping link remote Northern communities to the world. 

Kim Ballantyne is fulfilling a childhood dream.

“For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a pilot,” says Ballantyne, now a commercial pilot-in-training with a Manitoba airline that serves the province’s most remote, northern communities 

Ballantyne is now among a burgeoning group of women and Indigenous trailblazers in the province’s growing aviation and transport industries—which serve as vital links in Manitoba’s supply chains that keep the economy humming. 

After the recent challenges in supply chains that fueled inflation coming out of the pandemic, women, Indigenous and other under-represented peoples epitomize the future promise of the transportation and supply chain industries’ growth in Manitoba. 

That’s particularly so for aviation, which connects the province’s largest cities and its smallest communities with the rest of the world. 

The career potential in the aviation industry cannot be understated, especially for women. 

According to the Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace, women only account for one six per cent of mechanics and seven per cent of pilots in Canada. 

The percentage of Indigenous peoples working in the industry is even lower, accounting for four per cent of all workers, based on the organization’s data. 

Ballantyne notes that she counts herself among an even more rarified group: Indigenous women. 

That underrepresentation needs to change for the industry to grow as aviation in Canada, according to recent news reports, currently faces a lack of skilled workers—notably pilots—after the pandemic led to many workers to retire or pursue career paths outside the industry. 

Indeed, opportunity knocks for Manitoba women and other under-represented groups looking for a career in aviation or, for that matter, the transportation industry as a whole. 

Overall, Manitoba’s transportation and distribution economy contributes more than $4 billion to the province’s GDP (gross domestic product) annually with aviation accounting for more than a quarter of that activity, second only to rail in GDP contributions.  

The transportation industry also employs more than 40,000 Manitobans across about 4,300 businesses, in warehousing, storage, distribution and logistics, and it’s forecast to grow quickly, according to Supply Chain Manitoba

Transportation and warehousing is among the fastest growing industries in the province, expected to expand 21 per cent by 2025, faster than forestry, mining and health-care. 

Yet the industry faces challenges finding enough people to support that growth with Supply Chain Manitoba pointing to labour shortages across many occupations, including pilots. 

That’s one reason why Supply Chain Manitoba and other economic sector councils are stepping up recruitment efforts with programs encouraging Manitobans to pursue careers in transportation and related industries. 

Among those is the Manitoba Aviation Council, offering training programs and other initiatives to recruit more Manitobans—particularly women and Indigenous individuals. 

Of course, no need to tell Ballantyne about the opportunities at hand; she’s already seized them. 

What was once just a little girl’s daydream–as her family struggled to make ends meet in her home community of Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas–is now a blossoming reality. 

“I remember telling my grandfather when I was about four years old that I wanted to be a pilot,” Ballantyne says. 

“He said to me, ‘Stick to your dream, and one day, you will be one.’” 

Today, she is the first Indigenous female from her community to become a recreational pilot, and Ballantyne is now close to completing her training as a commercial pilot. 

Along the way, she has earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Manitoba, and worked at the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development in The Pas. 

“That experience allowed me to get work as a recruitment specialist with Manitoba Aerospace,” she adds, which led to her finding work with a local airline.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Ballantyne soon hopes to be piloting commercial flights to Indigenous communities. 

“Besides providing regular passenger service, air is a key link in the supply chain for northern communities, bringing residents and businesses essential goods and services like food, medical supplies, and equipment,” she says. 

Until she fulfills her dream, Ballantyne will continue working in the industry in another role, based in Winnipeg, where she frequently meets with Indigenous kids of all ages encouraging them to pursue careers in aviation and other supply chain-related industries. 

Of course, Ballantyne’s career in the industry is just getting started. 

“I hope to be flying routes from Winnipeg to the North by summer 2024,” says the mother of two young children. 

Often called a ‘trailblazer’, Ballantyne recognizes she is not only chasing her dream. 

“I’m showing others that they can do the same.”

Kim Ballantyne is working as a Community Engagement Specialist at Calm Air, while continuing to pursue her dream to be a commercial airline pilot.

To find out more about careers in aviation, visit the Manitoba Aviation Council website at www.mbaviation.ca

Learn more about Calm Air: https://www.calmair.com

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