Ramona Reynolds stands beside a Cessna 172 at the Victoria Flying Club. Reynolds is the first female president of the 70-year-old club.

Esquimalt pilot encouraging more women to fly

Looking at the runway at the Victoria International Airport, Ramona Reynolds’ eyes light up the moment she starts talking about flying.

Looking at the runway at the Victoria International Airport, Ramona Reynolds’ eyes light up the moment she starts talking about flying.

It’s something the 45-year-old Esquimalt resident has been doing ever since she was a child. Growing up in the small northern community of Fort Nelson B.C., her father owned a plane and would often take the family fishing or camping at isolated lakes in the region. It was like going for a leisurely Sunday drive.

“The amazing flying that we did when we lived up north, I just can’t wrap my mind around it. We would fly into a little grass strip and go to some little lake in the middle of nowhere,” said Reynolds. “It gets in your blood and it’s something you either love or you don’t.”

Despite her love of flying, Reynolds went on to become a successful business woman, providing legal recruiting services and eventually starting a family. But soaring through the sky was constantly on her mind. Whenever she’d watch the float planes come and go in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, she’d picture herself flying them north, just like her father did when she was a child.

It wasn’t until Reynolds was 38 years old and in the middle of a divorce that she decided to put her dreams of becoming a pilot into action. She went to the airport one day to pick up a client, only to discover they had missed their flight. Instead of driving back home, Reynolds went straight to the Victoria Flying Club and booked a discovery flight.

During that flight with an instructor, Reynolds was handed the controls of the Cessna 172 as she soared over her house and parts of the Island. Once the plane’s wheels touched back down, she signed up for every flight-training program possible.

“It was just exhilarating. I knew I was in exactly the right place at the exact right time,” said Reynolds, adding she was nervous for the take off and landing of her discovery flight. “That was it. There was no turning back.”

Reynolds couldn’t help but notice there was only one other female student in her flight training and one female instructor. Today, women still account for less than five per cent of commercial airline pilots worldwide. The reason, according to experts in the field, is because the profession requires a lot of expensive and continuous training, and takes woman away from home for long periods of time, making it difficult to raise a family.

In order to get a recreational pilot permit, which allows the holder to fly a single engine aircraft with a maximum of four seats, students must undergo a minimum of 40 hours of ground school and 25 hours of flight training, which comes with a cost of about $6,000 at the Victoria Flying Club. A private pilot licence requires 55 hours of flying and costs $12,000, while a commercial pilot licence requires 80 hours of ground school, 65 hours of flight training, 30 hours of solo flight and a written examine, with a cost of about $23,000.

In April 1978, Judy Cameron made headlines when she became Air Canada’s first female pilot and the second woman in history to fly for a Canadian commercial airline. A whirlwind of publicity accompanied the five-foot-seven, 24-year-old with long honey-coloured hair during the first few months on the job. The airline still only has about 160 female pilots among approximately 3,100.

Now the president of the Victoria Flying Club (and the first female to do so), Reynolds admits only a handful of pilots are female, but the demographics are slowly changing. In the cadet program, 11 out of 14 students are female as opposed to six out of 12 last year.

Reynolds would like to see more women in the cockpit and often speaks at community events, where she’s heard a lot of young women don’t pursue a career in aviation because their mother’s don’t want them to become pilots.

In the male-dominated profession, Reynolds admits women have to work a lot harder to prove themselves and becoming the first female president of a 70-year-old flying club largely made up of men wasn’t easy. There were many days she felt frustrated, but the support from some of her colleagues gave her the determination to carry on.

Now Reynolds loves the tight-knit aviation community almost as much as flying — a hobby she says keeps her grounded.

“I love airplanes. I’m crazy about them, love to fly them, love to watch them. Everything about that just makes me shine. But at the end of the day, it’s the airplane people that will keep you in it forever,” said Reynolds, who hops into a plane at least once a week and flies to various destinations around the Island for lunch, sometimes venturing as far as the Okanagan.

“All the stuff going on at home or at work, that stays on the ground. It’s you and your airplane and your friends. There’s nothing else going on. It’s amazing.”