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My Aviation Story – Sylvie Bouffard

            Getting into aviation is never an easy process, but as a nineteen-year-old girl who definitely looks fifteen, I always had to go the extra mile to prove myself. Here is the story of how I finally got to my commercial licence – through all the highs and lows.

The Start of it All

            Personally, I find people rarely take the stride to start a career as a pilot unless they either know someone already in the business, or have worked in other branches of aviation. For me, the idea had always been in my head ever since hearing my uncle share all his fascinating stories flying overseas. Still, I never thought it would be “possible”.

            When starting university, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I ended up starting a double-undergrad in Law and Journalism, so that I had two choices. Unfortunately, even though these programs were both interesting, I wanted more adventure – more challenge. This was frustrating because as a young girl seeing all her friends finding their path, I felt lost and helpless.

            That’s when I decided to take a huge leap. I thought back to my roots, and what had always captivated me throughout the years. I remembered telling my parents how “cool” I thought Air Ambulance operations were, and always looking up at the sky when seeing a plane. So, feeling like I had nothing to lose, I booked an intro flight at my local flight school, and never looked back.

Finding the “right” school… And program?

            Honestly, I didn’t visit many schools around me, and decided to stay in my city in case I wanted to finish my undergrad during flight training. Looking back, I wish I had done otherwise, but at the time it felt like the right choice for me.

            The school I started at had an iATPL (Integrated Airline Transport Pilot Licence) program, which I decided not to join since I was still unsure of whether I would go back to school or not. Luckily for me, though, my instructor treated me just like them, giving me priority on aircrafts and using a very similar flying curriculum. I was in the plane every day, as often as I could.

            I want to add that this instructor made a huge impact on me. First off, she was the only female instructor, and she taught me to break stereotypes. She would stand up for me, defend me, and put me first, no matter the situation. She had me finish my private licence as quick as possible. (Although, with our rough Canadian winter, it still took a little while due to weather cancellations!)

            After my PPL, she was hired at an airline, and I was left instructor-less. I got my night rating done right away, but after that, every instructor I got was either too busy with iATPL students who had first priority, or got hired elsewhere. For months, I was only time-building as a renter, practically only at night due to lack of plane availability during the day, and had no specific guidance. It was time for a change.

            After writing my CPL written exam, I decided to switch to a school two hours away. It was convenient since my cousins lived nearby and I could stay with them, and as soon as I stepped in, they made me feel extremely welcomed. This is important when choosing a flight school, because you want to feel confident. At my previous school, I felt I had to fight to make a good impression, but at this school, everyone took me extremely seriously, and each instructor voiced their positive opinions. To this day, it still feels like a second home.

The Journey to CPL

            At my new school, I was paired with a new instructor who had me fly every day. After the Chief Flight Instructor saw my logbook and PTR, they understood my situation (seeing I had no CPL training, only cross-country time), and gave me priority. I zoomed through training, learned the ins and outs of the new practice area, and before I knew it, I was ready to flight test!

            At this point, I had already been doing flight training for two years, and this moment was  long awaited. Because of this though, I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to pass this flight test, since I was way too ready to move on to the next step. That morning, I was pacing around back and forth, my stomach turning. It’s incredible how much you can doubt yourself even if everyone around you tells you otherwise. Now, I know my instructor would have never sent me if he wasn’t sure I could do it. Back then though, nothing could alleviate the pressure I was putting on myself.

            With that said, the flight test went amazing. I ended up passing with a 95%, which had me jump up and down when going back outside to go tie down the plane. Turns out, I just did what I knew how to do. Afterwards, I had never felt so confident in my life.

            Finally, it was time to move on to the final step.

Multi-IFR on a Farm

            Hear me out here – In between finishing my CPL and going on a trip to Japan, I only had one week. The school I wanted to attend for my Multi-IFR had a reputation for getting the rating done fairly quickly, so naturally, it had a long waiting list. To get on that waiting list, the INRAT exam had to be written. So, to be able to spend some of that “waiting time” in Japan, I booked my INRAT the day before my trip. But remember the first sentence of this paragraph? That gave me ONLY ONE WEEK to study for it! I passed, got my name on the waiting list, and flew off to Japan.

            Back home, I packed a suitcase and was on my way to this new school. I had always said I wanted to live on a farm, so I was pleasantly surprised when I got there and noticed that a) the school was 20 minutes away from any “big” town and b) it was on farmland, surrounded by farmland, and the student house was also on – you guessed it – farmland. I loved it. The first day, I threw my bags into my new room and ran to the yard which opened on a beautiful field of tall grass. (I didn’t know there were snakes but that’s probably a good thing).

            This was the last stretch for me – the only thing left to be done before I could start applying for jobs. Again, like for my CPL, I put lots of pressure on myself. This school really did get the training done quickly, guaranteeing two flights a day for each student. If it wasn’t a flight, it was a simulator session. Away from home and in a house full of people with the same intentions, the stress levels rose. We all shared our worries, successes, and experiences, which led to some of us comparing our journeys. This was good in a way, but also added a certain competitiveness. That said, I met some people that I will always keep in contact with, who went through the same thing as me.

            The night of my check ride, I landed and opened my phone to find two text messages. I had two very good friends in the house who helped me push to the end. The first message was from one of them, saying they had him pass his flight test while I was in flight, and he already booked his flight back home. The second message was from the other friend, saying she had already left during my flight since work called her back. In two seconds, I was left practically alone, with the ambition to finish as strong as ever.

            The next morning, I passed my flight test, packed my bags, and headed back home with a massive smile on my face.

What Now?

            Now that I’m done my initial training, I’ve started applying for jobs around Canada, and I’m studying to write my IATRA. My goal would be to fly Medevac up North, since that’s the branch of aviation that peaked my interest even before I started training. Finding a job is hard though since I have very few hours, so I’m still flying occasionally to not only boost my hours, but keep current. I’m even thinking of planning a long road-trip to go visit companies and hand in resumes.

            I still can’t believe I am where I am today. This whole journey felt like it went by so quickly, and it feels as though my intro flight was only yesterday. Honestly, it feels so surreal to finally complete a huge goal of mine, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds – although the journey is DEFINITELY not over!

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