The Aviatrix Project: propelling girls to reach for the sky

September 30, 2020

Kanchana Gamage, founder and director of The Aviatrix Project

Lily Ayres interviews Exposure alumna Kanchana Gamage, inspiring youth to chart high-flying careers

As a young volunteer with The Aviatrix Project, I have really enjoyed supervising Year 12 students as part of the ‘Nuffield Future Researchers’ programme. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to help students build their confidence.

The programme has created something so positive during this uncertain time, with the research itself being based on the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry. I am really excited to mentor the students through to the finish line and see the technical skills they develop along the way.

I wanted to interview Kanchana Gamage, founder and director of The Aviatrix Project, to find out more about her work, career and plans for the future, supporting the next generation of aviators.
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Lily: Describe the work you do for The Aviatrix Project.

Kanchana: I set up The Aviatrix Project in 2015 after gaining my private pilots’ licence. I have been a head teacher of two primary schools and now work as an education lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire. My background in education really spurred me on to set up the project.

The aim is to raise awareness, particularly amongst women and girls but also young people from diverse backgrounds, about aviation as a potential career choice. We are keen to encourage and offer opportunities to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Working with schools and aviation organisations we want to inspire those we work with to learn to fly and to enthuse them about aviation.

Lily: What motivated you to do this work and what keeps you motivated?

Kanchana: I’ve had a lifelong passion for aviation and education and I want to ensure that young people have ample opportunities to achieve their dreams. Being supported by female role models was key to my success and enjoyment whilst learning to fly. It took me a very long time to save for my pilots’ licence and I wasn’t aware about scholarships and opportunities available.

I was a reporter for Exposure at the age of 14 when I first moved to the UK from Sri Lanka and this experience really embedded values in me to help others. I really want to make sure that any young person who wants to achieve their dreams doesn’t have to wait as long as I did due to financial constraints. It is such a pleasure to inspire young people to achieve beyond what they imagine is possible!

Lily: What qualifications and experience do you need for this work?

Kanchana: My experience as a head teacher, a lecturer and being a pilot with the friends and networks I made really helped me to set up the project. It is a community interest company and I have support from other aviation organisations such as easyJet, The British Women Pilots Association and a number of flying clubs and schools.

Lily: Describe your greatest achievement/proudest moment.

Kanchana: This must be the day I flew alone for the first time – a dream since the age of 6! It is a feeling like no other to be able to fly above everything.

Sky’s the limit for Lily Ayres at The Aviatrix Project

Lily: Describe the challenges you face in your work.

Kanchana: As a community interest company, all the directors and the supporters are volunteers. I have around 145 volunteers who are pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers and other professionals from the aviation industry. It’s always a challenge to run an organisation where there is no funding but we have been incredibly lucky to be able to rely on the goodwill of our fantastic volunteers.

Another challenge we are trying to resolve is the gender imbalance in the industry. There aren’t many female commercial pilots and we are always using role models to make flying an accessible career choice. I’m also very keen to show young people that STEM careers can be a wonderful thing to aim for – they are not only technical but also creative. There are many initiatives to support gender equality in the industry and we are working with other organisations too.

Lily: What are your plans for the future of The Aviatrix Project?

Kanchana: We are growing year on year and so far we’ve visited over 400 schools and events to promote aviation and STEM careers. Most recently we’ve also developed virtual visits and events. Once we are able to we’d really like to continue to offer free flights, promote scholarships and also mentor young people.

Recently we supported 36 Year 12 students with the ‘Nuffield Future Researchers’ programme. The students worked with a supervisor and completed a project about the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry. The projects were a great success and we were able to support the students with their research and professional skills, and UCAS application. It is my hope to offer even more placements next year.

Covid-19 has had a tremendous impact on the aviation industry. Whilst we are still keen to promote flying, I’m also passionate to support young people to consider STEM careers; careers helping to solve the challenges of the pandemic, such as the use of drone technology.

Lily: What advice would you give to a young person wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Kanchana: It’s really important to work hard on what you’re passionate about. Of course you might encounter challenges but perseverance is key. There are many volunteering and work experience opportunities and it’s really important that you apply for these. Apprenticeships are another way to enter the world of work. I’m always happy to support young people who contact me for advice and guidance about the aviation and aerospace industries and also education!

Ultimately I believe that we can use aviation as a tool to raise aspirations. I want to encourage young people – particularly young women – to believe in themselves and to know that there are no limits or barriers to achieving anything they set their mind to. Blue skies all the way!

Lily Ayres, taking control of her future at The Aviatrix Project

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The Aviatrix Project offers many opportunities for young people ranging from careers advice, mentoring, links to aviation organisations, work experience and placements, free flights, scholarships and so much more! Due to the pandemic a lot of our work is currently online and we are planning events and visits for autumn and 2021.

Please contact us via our website or email flywithus@theaviatrixproject.com. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Lily is a Project Manager at Cobham Aviation Services. She is passionate about aviation and aerospace. She volunteers for a number of aviation charities and organisations.

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