Pilot | First Officer
Photo Cred: Eric MacDonald
Aviation Technology - Flight at First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI)
Pilot Apprenticeship Program with Wasaya Airways
Provide a brief general introduction of yourself.
My name is Chris Winnepetonga. I am a pilot from Wunnumin Lake First Nation.
How does your day-to-day routine look like?
A typical day for me is I wake up, start my wake-up routine, then drive to work. Once I arrive, I check my schedule and do my flight planning, which consists of information on weather, fuel, weight, number of passengers, departure and arrival locations into one document. I usually work 10 hours a day. I currently fly an aircraft called Beechcraft 1900, which is a 19 seater and it has two engines. As a First Officer, I share the responsibility with the Captain. It is a 50/50 workload for the each of us. However, he has the final say when it comes to safety.
Before we begin our flight, we meet the passengers as the agent collects the boarding passes then the Captain walks the passengers to the aircraft. When everyone has been seated safely on the plane, I brief everyone on the weather, arrival time, and safety information as the captain does a walk around to ensure safety.
After I finish my flight schedule for the day, I go home, eat, wash up and sleep then do it all again the next day.
What got you interested in your chosen career?
I did not know what I wanted to do as a career until my last year of high school. My cousin Aaron was in town, and his friend was an air cadet. His friend told him about the aviation world. So, we had a discussion about it. For example, we talked about the registration number of an aircraft. I learned that "C" means Canadian, "N" means American, "9" means Niners, and so on. I thought it was strange until my friend explained to me that they had to communicate this way to make it clear on the radio. Hearing the different things about aviation was what got me interested. It was then I decided I wanted to become a pilot.
What has motivated you?
What motivates me is talking to young people coming from northern isolated communities because I can relate to them. I would like to try to help them with their education and share my experiences with them. I know how difficult it is coming from a reserve to an urbanized town. I was lucky to have my foot halfway out the door by visiting my father in Sioux Lookout before moving there for high school.
Who has inspired me?
A little bit of everybody in my family inspires me. One of my grandfathers is a doctor (radiologist), and my grandfather was the Chief for a long time. My mother is a single mother who worked hard to take care of my brother and I. My father used to be the director of education for NNEC. He is retired now. I have aunts that have great jobs that allowed them to travel. They taught me different things, such as learning strategic games like Scrabble, and they have prompted me to read books and keep an open mind.
How did you get to where you are today?
During high school, I took courses mainly in math and science. It was not all easy. Luckily, I was able to get a tutor, and he helped me a lot. At the end of high school, I was accepted to three post-secondary programs: Paramedic, Mining Engineering Technician, and Aviation Technology - Flight. I chose aviation because the school was the furthest from home. It was a school called First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) in Tyendinaga, Ontario and I was there for three years. I got to meet other indigenous people from all over Canada. Some people were from Labrador, Nuvit, BC, and other locations. After that, I had to get my licenses: private and commercial licenses. I took a Pilot Apprenticeship Program for about a year and a half. I started flying the Hawker and did that for a year and a half then my contract ended. Now I am flying the Beechcraft 1900.
What financial opportunities did you use and what was the process?
I received funding from Wunnumin Lake First Nation, which I am grateful for. During college, I applied for a bursary and received about $500. It was helpful, and I wish I learned about them way sooner. So, when you are in post-secondary school, try to find out about the different bursaries at the college you attend. Not a lot of people know about them.
It was difficult on my way to becoming a pilot. There were obstacles to overcome going away from the community to get an education elsewhere such as culture shock and homesickness, but I kept pushing. It’s exciting to finally reach your goals, but then you face new challenges in your career too. The best way to learn is to fail.
What are some things you like about your career?
I started off flying the caravan and hawker planes, which means I had to deal with fuel and freight. Now that I am working on the Beechcraft 1900, I can socialize and meet different people from kind and funny elders to people coming from Italy to see Big Trout Lake.
I like my job because Wasaya is a company that shares ownership with different communities, and Wunnumin is one of them. I feel like I am representing my community working for Wasaya. I also like where I am located because it has awesome sceneries. The best sight for me are the northern lights.
Outside of work, what do you do for self care?
I like to visit family, travel, spend time on the land hunting, trapping, and fishing. I enjoy cooking, reading, hiking, golf, play the guitar, play video games, and swimming in the summer.
What do you still hope to achieve?
I try not to look too far into the future. I want to be successful with my upcoming exams. Come back to Wasaya and be the Captain of the Caravan and build up my hours then become the Captain of the Beechcraft 1900. After that, I will be keeping an open mind on what my options will be. For example, I may work for Air Canada or Westjet. However, my friends and I thought of starting a business somewhere down the road. We plan to buy a couple of float planes and fly fisherman around.
What would you like to share with the youth reading this?
If you feel like you chose the wrong career choice, it is okay to change to a different one. Once you get what you want, you will feel free. You just need to take it one day at a time. The big thing for me was to ask for help. A lot of people don’t ask for help. At first I did not do that because I found it embarrassing and my sense of pride, but there are a lot of resources out there. You could talk to a doctor, counsellors and guidance counsellors. I looked to my guidance counsellor a lot. I am glad I did because asking for help took away the unnecessary stress.