Yukon has a new Indigenous commercial pilot.
Shadunjen van Kampen, a 21-year-old member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, has been flying small aircraft for three years now. She recently completed her written exams and flight test — certifying her as a single-engine commercial pilot.
Van Kampen says she didn’t know what she wanted to do after graduating from high school, but her father was a pilot and so she decided to follow in his footsteps.
She applied to a private flight school at the Victoria Flying Club in North Saanich, B.C., and the rest is history.
Van Kampen successfully applied for funding from her First Nation, and with financial help from the Yukon government’s Yukon Grant — which gives funding for Yukon students to pursue post-secondary studies — she headed down to Vancouver Island to learn how to fly.
She said a very small percentage of commercial pilots in Canada are women.
“I don’t think it’s due to a lack of interest. I think it’s probably more First Nations women and women in general just are not aware that it’s an option for them or something that is very achievable,” said van Kampen.
She said most students in her flight school were men.
The Dawson City resident said she wants to be a commercial bush pilot.
“Along with the flying aspect that I enjoy about bush flying, I also like the part on the ground where you are loading airplanes, unloading them, going to these different little airstrips, meeting a lot of different clients on a daily basis,” she said.
She now can fly single-engine aircraft like the Cessna 172.
“These planes are used a lot in the Yukon for smaller charters such as gold miners in the area, outfitters, geologists,” said van Kampen.
Incredibly skilled pilot, says trainer
Kelly Collins has been a flight instructor and pilot examiner for 35 years, and he says working with van Kampen was the first time he’s trained a First Nations woman to be a commercial pilot.
“I put hundreds of graduates through over the last three and a half decades — so it’s quite possible she is the first one in the Yukon,” Collins said.
Collins said as recently as three months ago, there was a worldwide pilot shortage. That changed with the COVID-19 pandemic and the grounding of many flights, Collins said.
“Just a complete abrupt stop to it. Hopefully, it will come back and people in Shadunjen’s position will be able to find work,” said Collins.
Colins said van Kampen is incredibly skilled as a pilot and he is proud to have been one of her instructors.
Van Kampen hopes to soon fly out of Dawson, and start getting paid to do what she loves.