Melissa Haney

Broadening Horizons: Melissa Haney Becomes a Captain as her Dreams Soar

“I'm really grateful for what my first job in aviation was, because it really made me open my eyes to see different things and gave me a good base and confidence to move on to take the leap to get my pilot license,” says Melissa Haney who captains a 737 with Air Inuit. She grew up in Nunavik, having lived in a number of places including Kuujjuaq and Inukjuak before moving to Montreal. She’s moved around since then but found her way back to the Northern skies through a career she says she came upon by chance. 

In many Northern and remote communities, aviation is a way of life but not all youth raised there understand they could have an aviation career there. Eventually she became a flight attendant. Without having ever seen anyone like her as a pilot, she thought, “if I don't see it, it's something that I can't do.” She had a perception of what a pilot looked like and it wasn’t her. After meeting Indigenous pilots and  craving the incredible view from the front of the plane, she started taking pilot lessons, confident she could do it. 

“I think mentorship is very important, no matter what field you're in, what career you're in, or what you're looking to do in your life,” she reflects, encouraging youth or anyone looking to change careers to seek out a mentor who can guide and support them on their journey. Haney is trying to pay it forward herself by mentoring the next generation of pilots, having had the thrill of flying alongside her own mentors before they retired. 

A lot of people think you have to have perfect eyesight and be a math genius to fly but Haney assures that’s not the case, noting you can fly with glasses and you need to know math but it’s mostly adding numbers together and solving problems. Graduating from high school is an important qualification before attending flight school, working your way through license classes to become a commercial pilot. Some people take aviation degree programs so that they have a degree to fall back on if they change their mind. Another approach is a modular program, where you get to work at your own pace.

Her advice to Indigenous youth with an interest in aviation is to find a mentor or talk to a school guidance counsellor. Haney works with a group called Elevate Aviation which mentors women and underrepresented groups who aspire to a career in aviation, providing them with resources and flight schools in their area.

Illustration by Shaikara David

When it comes to Indigenous youth who want to leave their community for school for the first time, Haney knows it can be tough, learning how to live by yourself and also a new trade or new things at school. She suggests drawing on one’s support network, family, friends, and guidance counsellors to find answers to questions and get help when needed. 

Haney’s first big obstacle was self-confidence, believing in herself and her abilities. Bit by bit, with victories small to large, she built her confidence and self-worth, celebrating with her family and friends by her side. If she could give her younger self advice, it would be to not sweat the small stuff. Otherwise, she wouldn’t change much, as she’s happy with how everything turned out, looking at the big picture. That’s why she encourages youth to move past the small struggles and onto what’s next. 

To balance her mental health, something important in her line of work, she listens to her body, maintains a good sleep schedule to get all the rest she needs and gets fresh air every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Her job can have ups and downs beyond just take offs and landings and when she needs inspiration, she thinks of how she longed for the view from the pilot’s seat when she got her start as a flight attendant. She thinks about the happy faces of community members excited to see a plane after a long blizzard, about the sunrises and the sunsets and the hopes she has for the next generation of Indigenous pilots. “I want the next group of Indigenous aviators to do more than I did,” she proclaims.  

From her strong foundation as a flight attendant, Melissa Haney took off towards her new favourite place as a pilot, settling into a career where her dreams could really soar. She never saw someone like her take to the skies as a child, and she couldn’t be what she could not see. Now she’s seeing a new level of success, broadening her horizons as she savours the view from the captain’s seat of a 737. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    December 20, 2023
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
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