Safety & Training
A Wild Ride
May 15, 2013 By Anna Pangrazzi
One of the best things about having a career in aviation is meeting interesting characters and listening to the stories they tell.
One of the best things about having a career in aviation is meeting interesting characters and listening to the stories they tell. Mary Ellen Pauli is a prime example. Last fall, I had the honour of presenting Pauli with the Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Award. She has been a helicopter pilot with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) for more than 25 years, and until quite recently, was the only woman on the roster. Pauli’s stories are fascinating. Growing up near a fly-in bush camp in northern Quebec where both her father and brother were hardworking pilots, she never dreamed that flying could be a possibility for her until she read a book about Amelia Earhart. Recently, we discussed the importance of role models and the challenges and rewards of flying.
Q: Why was the book about Amelia Earhart so important to you?
A: I was 13 when I read that book and it showed me that it really was possible for me to fly, that girls can fly. I think it’s very important young girls are exposed to as many role models as possible. They just don’t see female helicopter pilots. Even my friends never see me in a uniform or flying.
Q: Did your family encourage you to fly?
A: Growing up, we lived above an airbase and I wasn’t even allowed to go down there. When I expressed an interest in being a pilot my father said, ‘You’ll never get a job’. My brother encouraged me along the way but unfortunately he died in a plane crash when I was fairly young. My mother always said where there’s a will, there’s a way and so I focused on that.
Q: What kind of challenges have you had in your career? Was it hard to be taken seriously?
A: When I arrived at the helicopter base to start lessons, I found out they weren’t even expecting me. They weren’t set up to have women there and they didn’t think that I would show up. When I received my commercial helicopter’s licence and started looking for a job, 15 companies turned me down because all they had was bush work and they didn’t think a woman could do it. These challenges only deepened my resolve and I became more determined. Fredericton Helicopters finally hired me for the summer tourist season. It was hard work and required not only flying skills but marketing and booking and organizing the summer “pad” rides over the Maritimes. I think they appreciated my work ethic so they kept me on after the season ended.
Q: How do you describe your professional style?
A: I take flying very seriously. I would say that I am a perfectionist. Working in the north brings many challenges. I have worked in mining exploration camps, power line construction, diamond drilling, environmental studies and transportation. As a pilot you need to keep things on track and on time. I like the precision of the job.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your position?
A: The projects I have been involved in are so rewarding. Working with wildlife, collaring caribou, black bears, polar bears and working with scientists to study their environment has been very exciting. Fire season also offers its own challenges. The greatest thing about my job is being able to work with interesting and dedicated people. The northern landscape is also spectacular. Very few people get to see where I fly!
Q: Have you ever felt that the challenges were just too much, too hard to overcome?
A: There have been a couple of instances over the years that I found myself struggling to get over the wall. The kinds of situations that are just not rational, like discrimination. So much harder than facing a charging polar bear or staying in a swampy bug-infested camp in tents with the drill crews.
Q: Is there anything more you think we should be doing to entice young women into a career in aviation?
A: Just making women aware in any way we can. As professional pilots, it’s about making ourselves visible and available to encourage and inspire young women to follow their passion to fly or be involved in some form in the aviation world.
Q: What advice would you give young women thinking about a career in aviation?
A: If this is your passion, then don’t ever let anyone talk you out of it – stay true to yourself and your dream. If you are on that path and forging ahead, things will fall into place.
Anna Pangrazzi is president of Apex Aircraft Sales Ltd. in Toronto. An accomplished aviator, Pangrazzi has a passion for highlighting the exploits of other prominent female aviators.