‘They couldn’t not hire me’ – Capt. Rosella Bjornson, Canada’s first female commercial airline pilot

By Tori Vail

Sept. 28, 2015

Rosella Bjornson always knew she wanted to fly a plane.

Growing up in Southern Alberta during the 1960s she always seemed to be around planes. Not surprising, really, as she frequently flew with her father. He had his own plane but when she said she wanted to be a pilot when she grew up, most people were skeptical.

“They looked at me strange because there were no female airline pilots.”

She knew that if she was going to be hired to fly a plane, she would have to be very well qualified.

“And that meant… on my own.”

It wouldn’t be easy. In order to become a pilot you have to get your private pilot’s licence, then a commercial pilot licence, night endorsement and a twin-engine endorsement.

Bjornson had her private licence at the age of 17 and her instructor’s rating by the time she was 20.

“As a woman, it was really difficult for me because no one was hiring women so what I did was take an instructor’s rating. It allowed me to teach people to fly.”

With all of Bjornson’s experience it would be hard to turn her away.

“When I came out of high school I knew that in order to be very well qualified and to look good on my resume I would have to go to university. So I attended the University of Calgary and did all my flight training in the summer.

“They couldn’t not hire me.”

She was right. Bjornson had 3,500 hours of flying, an air transport rating and a university education. She was hired by Transair in 1973, a small airline in Winnipeg. She became the first female commercial scheduled airline pilot in Canada.

Bjornson said there are still not a lot of women in aviation.

“Why are there not more women in aviation? Number 1, they don’t know about it and they don’t think it is an option, number 2 it is expensive and number 3 it is very competitive.

Education is so important, Bjornson said.

“Pick something that you want and just do it and don’t let anything get in your way.”

She said women need to be able to earn enough money to support themselves.

“It’s too easy to let the husband to just do it but when you look back at 25 or 30 years of age you will think, ‘Why didn’t I just do that?’ You have to do it when you are young. You have to put in the effort so you can support yourself because there is no guarantee with marriage anymore.”

Bjornson, now retired for 11 years, offers private flying lessons from her own aircraft and has a hanger in her back yard.