Métis pilot Teara Fraser is the first Indigenous woman to own and operate her own airline in Canada. Between delivering supplies to remote communities during COVID, offsetting carbon emissions and being industry leaders in equity and sustainability, she and her team ensure that their work in the air does some good for the Earth—and for the people on it.

By Teara Fraser, as told to Alyssa Hirose

My passion for this industry started when I was 30 years old. I went on a trip to Africa, and travelled in a small aircraft for the very first time. It was so inspiring to witness the land, and its stories, from the air.

But beyond the outside, I was curious about the inside of the aircraft—how an airplane flies, what all the buttons are for. I said, “This pilot’s got the coolest job I’ve ever seen!” It ignited an idea about what was possible. So I came home and started my flight training.

Iskwew AirWonderful Ida. Pictured: Teara Fraser.

Starting an airline in a global pandemic has been enormously challenging. We were trying to keep up with all the changes, and trying to make responsible decisions. And then it became about how we can serve. We started an airlift campaign where we delivered supplies to remote communities. We launched our own aircraft maintenance organization. Now, we’ve commenced scheduled service—we are tenacious as heck.

Our clientele may be nurses working in an isolated location or a corporate team travelling together, or we might be delivering people and film equipment to a site. Iskwew Air sees ourselves as the bridge between traditional air transportation and the sustainable technology of the future. We’re stepping into our role as Indigenous innovators in advanced air mobility, and building a system that centres equity and sustainability. What COVID has shown us is that there are lots of systems that are not working—let’s not build it back the way we had it.

Iskwew Air Teara FraserIskwew Air. Pilot Teara Fraser on an early morning cargo run.

Flying a plane is straight-up cool. It holds a lot of awe and wonder, and at the same time a lot of responsibility. We’re interested in seeing how emerging technologies can uplift Indigenous stories, sovereignties and stewardship. Iskwew Air is a founding member of the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium. The consortium works to redefine the way we move, and to create infrastructure that is accessible and resilient.

We want to see Indigenous peoples leading in this innovative space, decolonizing and decarbonizing the skies for future generations. We’re being mindful about how we can walk more softly on Mother Earth. For example, we track our emissions, and then we offset them by contributing to projects that prevent the equivalent emissions from being released into the atmosphere. All of our offsets benefit the Great Bear Rainforest, which is right here in British Columbia.

Iskwew AirIskwew Air. Teara Fraser (left) and aircraft maintenance engineer Alisha Sohpaul.

Last March was when we launched our aircraft maintenance organization—so now we’re not just flying planes, we’re also fixing them. Only 2.3 percent of aircraft maintenance engineers are women, and less than half of a percent are women of colour, so I’m very proud to have our maintenance commission run by Alisha Sohpaul. We have a small team, and absolutely everybody has been working hard through these challenging times. There is nothing that happens without community, and Iskwew Air has been able to persevere because we have smart, resourceful, generous and loving humans working alongside one another.

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