Former Moose Jaw resident Denise Walters says she has wanted to be a pilot since she could walk, and now her dreams are soaring even higher as she finishes her training to pilot the largest passenger jet included in the Air Canada fleet.
“I always knew it’s what I wanted to do, and I love it. I think I was just born to fly,” said Walters. “I love everything about it. I love the travelling, the intellectual aspects where I always have to be studying, the people at the airport and the support staff it takes, it’s pretty amazing.”
After graduating from Vanier Collegiate, Walters pursued her dream of flight, which wasn’t strongly encouraged at the time. While in university working on her degree, she began the process to attain her private pilot license.
Walters has now been a certified pilot for 30 years, with over two decades flying under the Air Canada logo. Before joining the airline, she flew cargo planes for a time.
Now, Walters has just finished her training to take the helm of the Boeing 777, the largest twin-engine in the world and the highest position possible at Air Canada.
The 777 carries up to 450 passengers, and currently flies all over the world to countries in South America, Asia, and Europe.
“I feel very fortunate to be at the top of my career but it’s also a tremendous sense of responsibility to my passengers, who entrust me with their life, and to Air Canada who entrusts me with their $400 million airplane,” said Walters. “It’s a huge responsibility but I take it very seriously.”
Air Canada pilots are only trained to operate one aircraft at a time, said Walters, and the training to change positions usually takes around three months to complete.
Training includes ground school, home study and simulator training, finishing with in-air flight tests with a fellow training pilot.
Walters feels proud of herself for the hard work she has put into her career, especially as a female pilot in a largely male career.
Air Canada employs around 4,400 pilots and just under five per cent are women. Walters is one of the less than one per cent of female pilots at the airline who hold the rank of captain.
“I had flown for 22 years before I ever flew with another female,” said Walters. “So, it’s nice to see more women around.”
Walters said that her career doesn’t even feel like a job as she enjoys it so much, and shared a tidbit of advice for those left in her hometown contemplating their dreams for the future.
“Follow your passions and pursue them no matter what,” said Walters. “There will be good time and bad times, but just stick with it.”