Why are there so few women pilots? Industry averages hover stubbornly at 5-6%. Do women not want to become pilots? Is there not enough education or awareness? And what is driving the gender gap in other key aviation fields including air traffic control (ATC), aircraft engineering, maintenance, air racing, and search & rescue?
These are just some of the questions that Canadian air traffic controller turned activist Kendra Kincade seeks to answer — and indeed provide solutions for — in her new documentary Only Up. In it, she shares intriguing details about her own journey, and tracks multiple women in aviation across Canada as they defy stereotypes to achieve fulfilling careers in aviation.
Throughout the film, Kincade goes deep in questioning the status quo. She reaches out to both current industry professionals and veterans alike, providing insightful commentary and seeking their opinions about the lack of gender and racial diversity in industry.
Kincade also gauges whether or not young people are aware of the different roles in aviation.
Appropriately, Only Up begins by exploring opportunities and obstacles in Kincade’s original field: air traffic control, where women are represented by 17% of the jobs, still a respectable number when compared with many other fields.
The film follows Emily Meyer and Erica Henkel as they endure the long and intense journey of training to follow in her footsteps. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but suffice it to say that these two women achieve different outcomes in their quest to become controllers. The industry offers bountiful opportunities, however.
Watching Only Up with my 13-year old daughter, we found ourselves wanting to learn more about opportunities in ATC — a sign that this documentary resonates with different age groups, and perhaps that an ATC-focused deep dive sequel would be appreciated. In an interview with Canadian entertainment network Super Channel, Kincade acknowledges that the process to becoming a controller can be stressful.
Segueing to the pilot profession, Only Up introduces us to two veteran commercial airline pilots in Canada, Captain Rosella Bjornson and Captain Judy Cameron, who provide insight into why not much has changed since they started their careers.
Conversations with Melissa Haney, the first female Inuk pilot, and Malina Berthe, a young Inuk woman working to become a pilot, also prove enlightening, as they highlight some of the systemic barriers holding women back.
Kincade, herself, certainly hasn’t been sitting on her hands. In 2015, she founded Elevate Aviation, along with co-founder Laura Sinclair. Elevate is a non-profit whose mission is to provide a platform for women and underrepresented groups to thrive and succeed through careers in aviation.
“The dream was to create a space where we could show off these careers and give the opportunity for people to come in and have these careers in aviation,” she explains in Only Up.
Overall, the documentary serves as a terrific introduction to aviation for young women and children, and shatters many prejudices within the industry.
Having watched Only Up not once but twice with my daughter, we learned about opportunities we didn’t know existed — though you won’t find either of us joining Formula One racer Blaire Hamilton in the Atomic Pumpkin anytime soon.
Only Up is accessible to Canadians via Super Channel FUSE, an add-on channel in your Prime Video subscription.
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Featured image credited to Nova Andrews