Canada’s First Indigenous and Female-Owned Airline Begins Service to Vancouver Island

Iskwew Air's eight-seat PA31 Piper Navajo Chieftain twin-engine aircraft
Iskwew Air’s eight-seat PA31 Piper Navajo Chieftain twin-engine aircraft

Iskwew Air, Canada’s first indigenous and female-owned airline began operations on Vancouver Island last month, with its first scheduled service a flight between YVR and Qualicum Beach Airport (XQU) on 16AUG 2021.

Teara Fraser, founder and CEO of Iskwew Air, notes that she had been looking to service XQU for some time, and believes it was the right place to begin service.

Teara Fraser, founder and CEO of Iskwew Air
Teara Fraser, founder and CEO of Iskwew Air

“It’s a small community. It’s been without service for quite some time and it is just right for our little airplane. The [runway] strip is too small for some of the bigger airlines to fly into and just right for us,” she said, adding. “Qualicum Beach has been something that we’ve been looking at since the inception of the airline as a possible community.”

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Iskwew Air was founded by Fraser in 2018, Canada’s first ever indigenous and female-owned airline. The word “iskwew” means “woman” in Cree and Fraser highlights the name was chosen for a variety of reasons.

“The name was chosen as an active reclamation, reclamation of womanhood, reclamation of matriarchal leadership, and reclamation of language. Yes, I am a woman and I am a very proud Métis woman,” said Fraser. “You know, in this industry, there isn’t a lot of diversity. There are few women and few women of colour certainly and this is about creating some diversity and celebrating and amplifying the importance of diversity in our industry.”

Upon arrival at YVR, the first Iskwew Air flight from XQU was greeted by a celebratory water salute, and also welcomed with a traditional blessing and a cedar brushing by Musqueam First Nations cultural knowledge keepers, Thelma and Art Stogan.

One passenger on board said: “to be met by the fire truck water arch was fun. However, being part of the greeting ceremony by the elders on the tarmac after the flight was an unforgettable experience.”

For the airline’s departure from YVR, Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow thanked Iskwew Air for following protocol and added that “this respect for Musqueam does not go unnoticed.”

Upon landing at XQU, Qualicum Chief Michael Recalma enlisted local cultural representatives to welcome and honour Iskwew Air with a traditional blanketing ceremony and welcome song.

Iskwew Air operates flights between the two airports four times per week on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays aboard its eight-seat PA31 Piper Navajo Chieftain twin-engine aircraft, according to CHEK.

According to the local television news report, the airline currently has two planes with a staff of around 6 members, the majority of whom are women.

“This is a real humble start, we just have now two small airplanes. But you know, the regulatory framework is similar, regardless of your size,” said Fraser. “Only 2.3 per cent of aircraft maintenance engineers are women and the first woman aircraft maintenance engineer was licensed in Canada on 11MAR 1971. There are still very, very few women engineers, so we are super, super proud and excited to have our maintenance division led by an incredible woman, Alisha Sohpaul.”

For more information on Iskwew Air, click here.

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