Allie Paterson’s aviation career is in full flight only months after graduating from Selkirk College.
Paterson completed Selkirk’s Aviation Program with a Professional Pilot Diploma in the spring of 2012. Less than a year later, the 21-year-old Lower Mainland resident took her seat as a First Officer with Air Canada’s Jazz.
“It’s gone by really fast, but I worked really hard at Selkirk and I knew this was an option,” says Paterson. “I’m really glad that I pushed myself.”
Allie Paterson (right) with fellow former Selkirk College Aviation Program student Felicia Grieves during a flight in the school's Cessna 172.
Paterson’s opportunity with the regional carrier came as a result of Selkirk College’s partnership with Jazz. As an active member of Collegiate Aviation Canada, Selkirk is one of six schools across Canada that nominates top graduates for participation in a special Jazz selection process.
In the spring of 2012, Paterson was chosen by her instructors to travel to Toronto for an interview as one of the Selkirk students who excelled in academics, flight and simulator performance, and professionalism. Only 19-years-old at the time, Paterson impressed the hiring committee and was asked to join Jazz.
“The time I spent at Selkirk, I was hard at it,” Paterson says of her education at the Castlegar-based Aviation Program. “I didn’t mess around because from day-one they tell you that this opportunity is available.”
Flying Comes Natural
Paterson grew up in an aviation family. Her father started as a pilot with Pacific Western, moved onto Canadian Airlines and finished his career with Air Canada. Her mom was a flight attendant for the now defunct Canadian Pacific Airlines, Canadian Airlines and Air Canada.
“I spent a lot of time at the airport,” she says. “Watching airplanes, hanging out at the hangers, crawling all over the airplanes… these are the things I did when I was a kid.”
When Paterson was in Grade 10 her father offered to sign her up for flying lessons.
“I thought I would give it a try and ended up loving it,” Paterson says. “I decided at that point that is what I wanted to do. I was flying by myself before I could drive by myself.”
What hooked Paterson is the same passion that appeals to most who take up a career in aviation: the vastness of the sky above.
“The freedom,” Paterson says when asked about the best part about flying. “When I was a kid I couldn’t take the car and go drive somewhere, but I could hop in an airplane and go out to Abbotsford by myself. The freedom, the feeling of flying and seeing new places. I’ve always loved traveling, so it’s a dream job because you get to travel for work as well.”
Touching Down in the Kootenays
Once she graduated from high school, Paterson’s choice for a post-secondary path was as clear as a bluebird day.
When it came to choice of schools, her father suggested she enroll in a program with a glowing reputation in the aviation community. Paterson arrived to Selkirk College in the autumn of 2010.
“Nothing really sparked my interest in high school with the courses I was taking,” says Paterson, who describes herself as B-plus student when she was in high school. “When I got to Selkirk and it was strictly the flying-based stuff, that was my passion and that is what caught my interest. That’s the reason I worked so hard because it is something you are interested in and that is motivation enough.”
Allie Paterson in Kelowna while in the Selkirk College Aviation Program.
The Selkirk College aviation facility is a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art classroom with experienced instructors. One of the main attractions is the two FRASCA 242 and one ALSIM 200MCC flight training simulators.
“The first thing that comes to mind is the unlimited simulator time,” Paterson says of the Selkirk College advantage. “I don’t know of any other programs that offer that, you usually pay by the hour. At Selkirk you can book simulators and you hop in anytime day or night.”
Flight training is completed in a fully equipped fleet consisting of five Cessna 172P and two twin Beech Travel Air (BE-95) aircraft. The intensive two-year program is certified by Transport Canada.
“The instructors are all experienced in the industry and that makes a big difference,” says Paterson. “They are speaking from real life experience, they have all flown and experienced all of these different things that you are being taught.”
An added bonus of the program is something many non-aviation thinkers might consider a negative.
“Flying in the mountains, there are a lot more things you need to be aware of,” she says. “You get the different winds over the mountains and the weather changes quite quickly. You need to be careful and make good decisions in the mountainous terrain. It’s a challenge and it makes you a better pilot.”
A Promising Future in Aviation
Paterson began her career with Jazz this past March with line indoctrination that includes flying with a training captain. Today she is First Officer on the airline’s Dash 8s that deliver passengers all over British Columbia and Western Canada.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Paterson says of life as a commercial pilot. “When I started with Jazz that was one thing that weighed on my mind a lot. There are 50 people sitting behind us and they are relying on us to get them there safely. You have to take the job very seriously and have to have a very professional attitude about it. But it’s a lot of fun.”
Still only 21, Paterson’s aviation career is just taking off. Continuing to learn every day on the job and sharpen her skills, she has not put much thought into what destinations await.
“I’m really not sure what I want for a long-term career,” says Paterson. “I’m really happy with Jazz right now, it’s an awesome company to work for and they treat us really well. I will just sit back and wait to see what happens in the industry.”
Over the past seven years, the Selkirk College Aviation Program has had five successful candidates go through the Jazz program that brings young first officers on board. Paterson was one of the best.
“Allie finished top of her class and obviously impressed the Jazz selection personnel as much as she impressed us,” says Selkirk Aviation instructor Chris Thring. “She will be an excellent employee for Jazz and undoubtedly pave the way for other young Canadian pilots.”
Paterson is pleased with her choice to enrol in Selkirk College.
“It’s a huge commitment when it comes to money, so if you are going to do it then you better be sure this is what you want,” she says. “People realize it’s expensive to learn to fly, but if it is something you love and something you want to do for the rest of your life then it’s worth the money.”