Flying in the Great White North
25 February 2019
For Roxanne Granger Flying in the Great White North is an adventure. Aboard Air Inuit planes, she soars through the sky above the 53rd parallel of the Northern Hemisphere, with the utmost respect for nature, showing no mercy to open spaces. At 26 years old, she continues to make her mark in a male-dominated profession.
There is only one public pilot program offered in Quebec, at Centre québécois de formation aéronautique, located in Chicoutimi. From 500 applicants a year, only 40 candidates are selected. Roxanne Granger ranked 42nd. “Before my mom even talked to me about this program, I thought becoming a pilot was just as complex as becoming an astronaut, I thought I would have to pursue extensive studies”, she remembers.
Following her rejection, she turned to private pilot programs. A much more expensive option—priced at around $65,000, which explains the current pilot shortage. “I was very lucky, my parents remortgaged their house and financed my training at ALM Par Avion in one lump sum.”
A year and a half later, she earned her private licence, then commercial, before receiving instructor qualifications. Today, she trains future instructors. The seed to become a pilot was most likely planted while she spent time on her aunt and uncle’s land in Saint-Michel-des-Saints. “I’ve always been handy, and I’ve always loved motorized toys, riding a 4 wheeler or a snowmobile in the bush.”
Wings at Air Inuit
After completing contracts with SOPFEU and SOPFIM for Grondair Aviation in the summer of 2017, she finally got her wings at Air Inuit. Her life is now a incessant round trip between the North and the mobile staff houses located in Radisson, Quebec, and her family home now considered “South”. The majority of her flying time, has been spent as first officer on a Dash 8 – 300, based in La Grande, transporting food to communities.
“The Great White North is an adventure! I had never been there before. Our province is so vast, and beautiful, but we are glued to the St. Lawrence River for obvious historical reasons. Here, nature has the upper hand. I love it, even if the terrain is arid. We have no choice but to respect its environment.”
But what she likes above all, is transporting Inuit and Cree hunters and fishermen to camps with the Twin Otter. “I’m at Air Inuit mainly because of the plane I had the chance to co-pilot last summer. Automated planes don’t inspire me as much. I prefer being at 500 feet above the treeline executing bush flying operations.”
“Recently, I took a vacation to go ice fishing in Salluit with my commanding officer. A nice fishing trip in the middle of the tundra. We had to ride a snowmobile for an hour to get there. Who else has the chance to experience that? I’m really spoiled!”
Respecting the climate
Roxanne Granger never takes off without her parka, even though she never sets foot outside. “You have to be ready for anything when it’s -40° Celsius. In the tundra, your chances of survival are nul. Especially for off-runway operations, which is why we also bring a sleeping bag, a shovel, an axe, and enough food for a couple of days.”
As soon as the wheels leave the ground, the young pilot enters a parallel universe. “Whatever happened under the clouds, stays under the clouds, I forget everything to concentrate solely on what I have to do.” Aboard the Twin Otter, it’s all about the unknown. You have to approach every runway, every situation like it’s the first time.”
The past five years as a pilot have taught her one thing: aviation requires willingness, determination, time and sacrifice. “It’s like a staircase. You can skip a few steps if you’re in a rush, but in my opinion, every step is worth experiencing to the fullest.”
“My grandmother has always been my biggest fan. When I was taking my course and I had to accumulate flying time, she always wanted to come up with me for fun. We started an annual tradition that my mom also joined: in the fall, we take a Cessna 172 and we go for brunch at Manoir Richelieu or Manoir Charlevoix to admire the colours.”