For the first time in the 30-year history of the First Nations Technical Institute's aviation program, a flight training crew is all female.
Rainbow Ford, who had her commercial flight test in December, told CTV's Your Morning she didn't think about the significance of having both a female instructor and examiner until a few days before her exam.
"I don't think it's ever happened before and at the time I was like, 'I wonder if this has ever happened like ever in the country,' because it's pretty different," Ford explained in an interview on Wednesday.
"We're one of the only First Nations flight schools so it’s definitely a first for our school and I thought that was so cool," she added.
The First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) is an Indigenous-owned and governed post-secondary school located in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ont. The FNTI's First Peoples' Aviation Technology program has been around since 1990 and is the "only post-secondary Indigenous aviation program of its kind in Canada," according to its website.
The three-year program covers flight training, navigation, radio operations, flight and simulator training as well as private and commercial licence requirements.
Ford’s instructor, Daniella Petitti, is also a graduate of the program and a certified pilot. She told CTV's Your Morning that she was always interested in aviation, but felt she had missed her chance when she entered her thirties.
She found her way to FNTI's program after looking for schools that offer the private pilot licence for mature students. She said finding an Indigenous school was a bonus to honour her Cree heritage.
While Petitti is now an instructor at the institute, she says it was difficult to return to school as an adult student.
"I think maturity-wise, it was a little bit different compared to the new students straight out of high school, but they [were] right on top of everything and I had to do a little bit more extra work just to keep up with them," Petitti said Wednesday.
However, FNTI examiner and dean of aviation Joanne Tabobandung says it is never too late for a woman to go after the career she wants, especially if it's in aviation.
Tabobandung explained in an interview on Wednesday that FNTI's aviation program doesn't specifically target Indigenous women, but offers a "student-centred approach" that focuses on maintaining connections to one’s culture and community while studying.
She says this approach, makes all of its students feel welcome, especially women.
"We create an environment that welcomes everybody so everybody feels comfortable and everybody is respected and the result is more females applying to the program," Tabobandung said.
Tabobandung says women who are interested in aviation should talk to those at FNTI or other organizations such as Canadian Women in Aviation and the Northern Lights Aerospace Foundation.
"The pandemic isn't going to last, the industry is going to rebound and there's so much support and there's so many more female mentors out there to talk to," Tabobandung said.