Air Canada’s first female pilot blazed a trail, but industry still dominated by men

It was one of Judy Cameron’s first media interviews as an Air Canada pilot, and the TV reporter — also a woman — lobbed the 24-year-old a couple of softballs before getting to the crucial question: “How do you manage to fly despite the ravages of pre-menstrual tension?”

Flummoxed, Cameron began babbling about how men are known to face fluctuating moods, too — or something like that; she can’t recall precisely. But 37 years later she still wishes she’d given a different answer.

“If I’d been on the ball, I would have said (to the reporter), ‘Well, probably about the same way you manage to do your job!” she laughs.

I’m proud of her. But I hope I feel safe the first time I fly with her

On April 10, 1978, Cameron became Air Canada’s first female pilot and the second woman in history to fly for a Canadian commercial airline. (The first, Rosella Bjornson, was hired by Winnipeg’s Transair in 1973.) And, at a time when cockpits were still seen as the preserve of intrepid red-blooded male pilots and the women were for serving drinks and wearing skirts, the media attention was intense.

 “Once I’d finished my training, I was released at the Montreal airport and it was like a Parliament Hill scrum,” Cameron says. “It was quite daunting for a 24-year-old with no media experience.”

The resulting coverage was skeptical, breathless — and hopelessly sexist.

“I’m proud of her,” a stewardess told The Canadian Press. “But I hope I feel safe the first time I fly with her.”Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail’s Joanne Kates served up a full physical description of Cameron.

“Judy Cameron (nee Evans), age 24, height 5 feet 7 inches, hair honey-coloured and flowing almost to her waist…looks like a female version of the All American Boy. She is the girl next door with a pilot’s licence and diamond and emerald studs in her ears.”Laura Pedersen/National Post

And for those readers who were worried about the “emotional stability” of female pilots, there was reassuring news: Air Canada’s medical staff had pored over NASA studies of female astronauts and American airlines’ studies of female pilots. “They found out that emotional stability, which to them means calmness, logic and a disciplined approach, has nothing to do with a person’s gender,” Kates reported. “After reading those comforting American studies, they decided to take a chance on Judy Cameron.”

Cameron, meanwhile, was just trying her best not to be distracted by the whirlwind of publicity that accompanied her first few months on the job.