I guess you're here to learn more about me eh?
Hi. My name is Emilie. Spelt the french way, yes.
Born & raised in Toronto, ON, my family is originally from Quebec, QC, hence the french name & first language.
Currently living in Calgary, AB, I have been absolutely LOVING my time in western Canada, exploring the Rockies both while skiing and hiking them.
But Emilie, how did you get into aviation?
I guess somewhere down the line after becoming a Registered Massage Therapist and working full-time for 2 years, I experienced a low point in my life. I felt proud of what I had achieved, and grateful for the education I’d had, but knew there was something missing in my life. I couldn’t help but daydream of something different for myself than my current circumstances. Something within me has always craved adventure, travel & going about life a non-standard way. I wasn’t fulfilling that craving and I knew I would be doing myself a disservice by not listening to that fire inside…
Enter: My dad making a random suggestion...
Through the midst of brainstorming my next chapter in life, my father randomly asked if I’d consider becoming a pilot.
I had never even thought about that option at that point. Coming from a family of non-aviators, and sitting at 22 years old ‘already’ (many pilots start a lot younger), it seemed like an odd fit. And yet, something hooked me with the idea. My dad had met a client of his & his daughter and I guess she reminded him of me. My father has always been someone I look up to for doing things his own way and considering a different path than the trusted, beaten one. So something told me I could trust his intuition on this.
A few days later after doing some light research, I drove to Buttonville Municipal Airport, in Markham, just north of downtown Toronto on a whim. I didn’t have an appointment or reservation (which in hindsight, was kinda bold of me!!), and just showed up with genuine interest and wanting to inform myself about options, in person.
Next thing I know, I’m asking the Dispatch desk whether anyone is available for an ‘Intro Flight’.
Once you have tasted flight...
There’s always that cheesy saying ‘ask any pilot how they started flying, and you will hear a love story’.
But something about it so true. During that first time in a small Cessna 150 back in 2010, I truly experienced something I had never had before. Wonder. Awe. Excitement. Nervousness. Intrigue. All wrapped and experienced during my first 45 minute flight over Toronto.
It wasn’t long after that morning that I had done more in depth research, sorting out the pros & cons of different flight training schools & programs I could join.
It was daunting to jump into something that felt so foreign to me, but somehow it also felt really neat to be listening to my gut telling me to keep going. It’s like it wasn’t even a consideration in my mind as to ‘should I?’ but more so a ‘how will I?’ It became strangely easy to accept that this would be my new path, the next chapter of my life.
A new chapter
Now, of course I’d be lying if I said it was an easy transition. I guess not many things are. Starting my flight training while working as an RMT took a lot out of me. I found it challenging to stay motivated to treat my clients when I knew my heart was into flying. The energy required to meet with my Instructor & fly first thing in the morning (brief at 0600, fly at 0700…), followed with 4-5 clients to then head back to the airport and fly once more (if the weather was nice) is at a level I’m not sure I could achieve anymore!
But it was necessary. And although there were numerous ups & downs throughout my training, figuratively and literally (sorry, had to), I wouldn’t trade it for anything!! It was rewarding and challenging and it all helped shape who I’ve since become.
So on with my training I went.
Becoming a pilot
With the help of my Instructor, we mapped out a decent idea of a timeline that was realistic and one that would challenge me. I was determined to get my training done and I was hoping I could do so effectively. I was warned of the trap that is to go through your training too slowly; where you could not only lose momentum, but also money.
And so one day at a time, I chugged along. Briefings, practice exams, flying, written exams, flight tests, medical exams, studying, more flying. I slowly, but consistently got through my training. I would eventually go solo for the first time in August 2010, 4 months after going on that first Intro Flight. A memory no pilot ever forgets!! It is something truly special to be able to handle and land an aircraft all on your own!!
I would continue my training until October of 2010, but unfortunately had to take a hiatus of 7 months, due to a shoulder injury from a car accident & repetitive strain of my work as an RMT. I kept reviewing and ‘chair flying’ and tried to stay on top of my studies, but it is so true that when you’re out of that aviation environment, it can be easy to get off track.
I finally got going again in May of 2011 and eventually got my Private Pilot License (PPL) in August of that same year!! It was such a huge, first big accomplishment that I felt so proud and stoked about. I could finally take passengers up! And who was my first lucky guest? My dad of course!!! I had to somehow return the gift of flight that he had given me…
It’s funny. I feel like I’ve been ‘becoming a pilot’ for so many years. At what point do you finally feel like you’ve ‘made it’?
I continued to work towards my Commercial Pilot License (CPL), which was possibly the most fun so far. ‘Time building’ as we call it, where you are spending numerous hours flying solo, practicing your flying exercises, heading to different airports, honing in on your radio work all while gaining confidence in yourself. It was also incredibly fun to take both my brothers flying & my close friends on a downtown city tour of Toronto, as well as other students to help lessen the burden of rental costs!! I definitely started to get into a rhythm of my training and felt like the airport and it’s environment were becoming a second home. I would eventually start working part-time at The Prop Shop (a gift and aviation supply store I absolutely loved) followed by becoming a Dispatcher for Toronto Airways, to not only get more involved in my new community, but to also network for opportunities down the line. One of my friends was wise in telling me that staying closer to the industry was a fail-safe way to not get ‘left behind’ when life got busy. That even if my training would have to take a break, my head would stay in the game. He was so right. I’m so happy I listened to his advice to this day.
Getting my CPL involved another written exam (which I partially failed with my first attempt), a Night Rating, a flight test as well as accumulating 200 flying hours which comprised of ‘cross-country’ navigation, specific flying exercises (stalls, spins, steep turns) as well as instrument flying. After more studying and practicing my takeoffs & landings doing more circuits than I could ever remember, I eventually went for & passed my CPL flight test in June of 2012, only 10 months after I had taken my PPL flight test!! I remember feeling so proud of myself and once I officially got my CPL signed off (which meant I could now work professionally as a pilot), I knew I had stepped into a different league.
Things got a little busy...
I was still working as full-time as I could as an RMT, working part-time at the Prop Shop & as a Dispatcher and somehow continuing my lessons. Did I mention I also enrolled part-time at the Seneca Aviation program? Apparently, I like to overwhelm myself… I completed their Certificate Program from 2010-2012 so as to compliment & deepen my understanding of (what I thought) was a very basic overview of the ground school that was required for my CPL. Juggling all of this was HARD. I had hardly any social life, my funds were at their lowest and I dedicated so much time to studying and reviewing my lessons. This was par for the course. But part of me knew that the second half of my flight training would need an extra amount of dedication.
The next phase of my training involved a short (only 8 hours, but so so fun!) stint of flying a twin-engine aircraft, a Cessna Seminole, to get my Multi-Engine Rating. Then we moved onto the hardest part (in my opinion) of flying: Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).
Many hours were spent in a simulator to practice basic instrument scanning, a skill already established by now, to build upon towards my next rating. We worked on having a full panel of instruments, as well as having only a partial panel, in the event of different instrument failures. Wrapping my head around this new world of IFR was something I struggled with a lot, especially initially. I had to change my normal view of looking at my aircraft as though I was looking ahead, to now viewing my aircraft (and myself) from above. Once I did this, it was much easier to gain and maintain situational awareness. But it was mind blowing to see how overwhelmed and task saturated I would get once I had to intercept different radials to then get established into a hold, all while ONLY looking at my instruments!
I would eventually get a little better, especially keeping things slower (read: in a single-engine aircraft), but often times I’d get discouraged when we would move onto the twin. I practiced often in the simulator, but I got into a bad habit of trying to memorize the steps, instead of fully, truly understanding WHAT I was doing. This ultimately lead to me failing my first IFR flight test. I was absolutely devastated. It was my first BIG failure I had experienced and my confidence definitely felt it. I was drained from having my flight test cancelled and re-booked about 15-16 times (note to self: do NOT try and book your IFR flight test in the fall, in Canadian weather… it was a nightmare to get the right conditions!!). Not only that, but I had been running my extreme ‘juggling’ show for a while now and I was definitely run down.
After a few solid cries, I eventually got back in the saddle and practiced a few more times in the simulator before giving the flight test another shot. My luck turned around as my second attempt didn’t get re-booked and I ended up passing my Multi-Engine IFR Flight Test in November of 2012!! I WAS SO RELIEVED!! This had easily been my greatest challenge in my training thus far.
So what next?
The industry at that time, wasn’t what it is now and things were much slower in 2012. I applied and reached out to numerous smaller operators all around Canada with my freshly minted resume, but unfortunately it was crickets all around. I was a ‘hire-able’ pilot, but I simply did not have enough hours to get employed or meet the insurance minimum most companies had. So after enjoying the holidays with my family, I decided to get back into training, and spent more money to acquire my Instructor Rating. It was the only logical next step that would allow me to work commercially as a pilot!
I really really really did not want to do this. I didn’t think I had the patience to be an Instructor. I did not want to teach and stay in the flight training environment. It just didn’t feel like it would be a good fit for me. But I didn’t really have any options, if I’m being perfectly honest. I needed to start working as a pilot and gaining more hours before I could progress onto the next step. So I had to fully accept that I would be becoming an Instructor. And I’d be a GOOD one.
But first, I had to go through the training!! It wasn’t the smoothest transition. Becoming a Flight Instructor really highlights your own weaknesses. Not only as a pilot, but as an individual as well.
Learning to be a student again?
The dynamics of becoming a Flight Instructor are…interesting. You switch your seating position back to the right (since you’ll be teaching from the right) and the mock student AKA your *Instructor* sits in the left. Your mind continuously switches between having your Instructor teach you how to teach from the right (and receiving feedback how to do so), to them also being a student in the left seat and pretending to learn along as you teach them. Sometimes, the mental gymnastics got quite confusing and complicated!!
After a few initial growing pains (re-learning what the heck actually happens in a stall and then having to teach it was….challenging!!), I started to enjoy the process a little more. My Instructor was truly fantastic at coaching me and helped make the Rating go a little smoother. Took us a couple of months and I had finally FINALLY accomplished ALL of my ratings I need to get going in August of 2013.
I flew to Oshawa to fly with a Flight Examiner (who would later become a dear friend) and the entire experience was just… amazing. I truly embraced becoming an Instructor and felt a tingle of joy just teaching someone the thrill of flying. I forget which exercises I taught him (as the Flight Test) but I do remember feeling so proud of myself. We debriefed, I got a fresh new rating in my Aviation Booklet, and I flew back from Oshawa to Buttonville. That flight solo home was….tear inducing!! I had finally DONE it!!
I took one week off and drove to our family cottage in Quebec to recoup.
Once I came back, I started instructing in September and got into the groove of things for a few months.
Buttonville Municipal airport had been going through some changes at this point. I believe there were new owners, and the reality of closing down was becoming more & more apparent. We received notice in January of 2014 that the Flight Training/school itself would be planning on moving to Oshawa in the upcoming future (with no set deadline). I wasn’t super thrilled about this. Although I hadn’t flown much due to the winter conditions (it’s a whole different ball game to do your flight training in Canada!!), I knew that the spring and summer would bring me the flight hours and experience I was looking for. But I wasn’t willing to add to my already long enough commute, OR go live in Oshawa itself.
I started considering my options. My friend suggested we drive out to Peterborough to go check out the brand new Seneca College campus built specifically for flight training. I think it was still winter, but as we drove out, I knew I had a good feeling about this. Cottage country and flying? Sign me up!!
After visiting and hopefully making good impressions, I applied and interviewed to become a Flight Instructor at Seneca. I knew my chances were slim (at the time, Seneca had a reputation for hiring mostly it’s own graduates) but I did it anyway. I’m happy to report I got an offer almost immediately!! I’m very grateful that the Chief Flight Instructor was opened to hiring outside of Seneca (as he wanted to expand the experience of his team) and he gave myself and others a chance. I started there in April of 2014 after moving to Peterborough and made it my home for the upcoming years.
It was a fantastic environment to learn as a new Instructor and gain confidence in my skills as a pilot. I quickly became and Class III Instructor and would eventually become not only a Class II, but also a Phase Lead (responsible for the entire group of students in that portion of their flight training as Seneca has an Integrated Program) and a Duty Instructor, overseeing solos and flights occurring during your shifts. I really had a blast meeting new friends, being out of the city and flying over the multitude of lakes in & around the Peterborough area.
At what point do you move on?
After enjoying 3 years of teaching at Seneca and living in Peterborough, the elusive 1000hrs had been reached. In 2017, this meant the ability to start looking elsewhere for new opportunities and possibilities as a pilot. I had also been studying and prepping for my final written exams (SAMRA & SARON) and passed them both successfully so that I could eventually be able to hold my ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot License). Knowing I’d likely never had to write those again was SUCH a nice feeling!!
I had always known that going start to the airlines wasn’t hugely appealing for me so I looked elsewhere. Where else would consider me as a ‘low-time’ pilot that I felt I could belong? I had received a few recommendations from fellow pilots seeking something slightly different than the airlines. One of those recommendations, was Voyageur Airlines and applied immediately. This company had numerous United Nations contracts around the world, and the appeal to work remotely definitely intrigued me.
I drove for 3hrs to show up for my interview in North Bay and had a blast visiting this city. I was so anxious and nervous, but getting a cheap university residence for the night prior to my interview was definitely a good choice!! I felt ready and prepped and had been practicing some behavioral style interview questions that definitely came in handy! Turns out they liked me enough and offered me a position on the Dash 8! I was super excited for the next chapter ahead!!
I had to bring the sad news to Seneca that I’d no longer be able to work full-time there as an Instructor anymore (I would go back as a Part-Time employee). They understood although saddened I would be leaving. I had built good relationships with people there but was happy to move onto something else!
Training at Voyageur commenced a few weeks later, in North Bay. We were given a hotel there & although our flight from Toronto got cancelled last minute, myself and my SIM partner (who I picked up in Toronto) decided to simply drive the 3.5 hours up to get there. We figured it would be similar timing and I was happy to have my vehicle with me for the 2-3 weeks we’d be in North Bay! A beautiful, sometimes rainy as heck, drive but it was worth it!
We started our training with only 3 pilots, so it was a really cozy atmosphere for learning! Did a few training modules with other Flight Attendants, but mostly it was Company Indoctrination training. As anyone who’s gone through this, training takes a toll on you! I was glad to be out near some scenic lake views.
After completing my company training, it was onto my very first Type Rating training. We headed back to Toronto for another nice drive in northern Ontario, this time heading south. If my memory serves me right, we got a hotel near Pearson Intl Airport shortly thereafter. The simulators are generally near airports for the ease of access of training pilots from all over. Getting your very first Type Rating is something that every pilot will remember – for numerous reasons. It is TOUGH. I would now be working in a 2-crew environment. Although 2 people are onboard when you work with a student as a Flight Instructor, the aircraft are ‘single-pilot rated’. Meaning a single person can operate. When you move on to a complex aircraft, 2 people are required to operate it safely. This is where the 2-crew environment comes from. It is a very different dynamic than working on your own! The best way I’ve found to describe it is, think of it like a dance – it truly is a partnership. Some people you dance better with, others, you’re just glad it’s over!!
So, along with now training and getting familiar with a 2-crew environment, I had to learn & memorize brand new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and ‘call-outs’ for different phases of flight. I had the joy of also working in what’s called an IPT or GFS, both of which are simply a ‘non-moving’ simulators. They are cockpit mimics where you can practice these SOPs & call-outs with your partner before heading into the much cooler & much more expensive, moving simulator. These are super fun and exciting at first and then absolutely draining. Getting through every single exercise, engine failures, cabin depressurization and unruly passengers is so exhausting, you think you won’t make it another session!! Adding to this challenge, was the fact that our sessions were the graveyard shift – from 10pm until 4am!! Then you had to try and sleep during the day, in a hotel, which any layover or itinerant worker can attest to be a challenge in itself.
In felt so drained & exhausted, but you just had to continue. I think we had 7 full motion simulator sessions prior to the ‘ride’ (actually called a Pilot Proficiency Check) where they endorse you with the Type Rating, if you are successful!
I don’t think I’d ever been that anxious and nervous in my life before!! I barely slept the day prior (yes *day, as our PPC was also the graveyard shift and sleeping during the day time in a hotel… is no easy feat) and just ran on a sweet mixture of adrenaline, coffee and probably hotel cookies.
It somehow flowed. It didn’t go perfectly to plan, as most things do, but we managed to come out victorious!! I was so proud of myself for having achieved this, but so exhausted. I slept like a baby and eventually made my way back home.
The next step? Finding out where I’d be heading for my deployment…
Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
I had done some research, and was aware of the numerous potential bases I could be sent to for my deployments with Voyageur. Since I’d never been to any of the locales, I was excited to experience and explore whichever base they’d assign me.
When I found out I would be heading to the DRC, I started doing some research to familiarize myself with some of the potential challenges I’d be shortly facing. I will admit, it was a bit daunting. These aren’t necessarily places that have tremendous amount of information, as they aren’t necessarily ‘tourist attractions’. But I did my best. I was seriously grateful that someone had put me in touch with someone who’d later become my Captain, to help me with packing & preperations.
After getting any and all possible vaccinations, I received my tickets for my flights and was immediately excited. I’d not only be finally working for a new company, expanding my skills as a pilot, but also exploring a part of the world I had never reached before.