When Cathy Press got her helicopter instructor rating almost 20 years ago, she was the only woman certified with that credential. But it’s not something you’re likely to hear her crow about.
Press, the owner of British Columbia flight instructing school Chinook Helicopters, says she has rarely identified herself as a woman for what she does and hasn’t drawn a lot of attention to it.
“There is a group in the United States called the Whirly-Girls and they’ll only have women members. I’ve never joined for the simple fact that it’s a statement for me,” Press, 46, tells Yahoo Canada Finance. “I refuse to join a group of people that restricts people based on their gender.”
Instead, what gives her pride is that she is currently the only person in the country — male or female — that is both an airplane and helicopter examiner.
She’s also the first person in the country the Canadian government approached outside of itself to help test others who would like to be flight instructors.
“I was quite proud of that, again not from a woman point of view, but from a person point of view.”
And her many aviation accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed. Recently, Press was recognized by BMO Celebrating Women in Vancouver in the category of Innovation and Global Growth, and she also received a 2017 Enterprising Women of the Year award.
Life in the skies
But her achievements and extraordinary business success with Chinook Helicopters didn’t happen overnight. It has all come after spending much of her life in the skies.
Press first flew solo on her 16th birthday, and by her 17th, she had both her helicopter and airplane licenses.
When she was in her early 20s, she considered abandoning helicopters for airplanes, but then had second thoughts.
“I was sort of headed towards the airline side, and quite honestly, I looked around at people that were my classmates and I didn’t know if I wanted to put the amount of years of my life aside to work for an airline,” Press recalls.
Saving the family business
Approximately five years later, Press officially became a helicopter instructor and was also faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to save the struggling family business or to take on a more traditional career instead. She eventually decided to take her father’s business, Chinook Helicopters, under her wings.
“It was the fastest way that I could see better things ahead for myself and my family,” Press says of her decision.
She became the owner of the business in 1998, but says it was only recently that she got Chinook exactly where she wanted it.
“Four years ago I had all of the things I had set out to do,” Press says. “The business has more than doubled — both in aircraft and gross revenue — and also I’ve travelled and have had more globalization to the business.”
After seeing Chinook throughout its tumultuous 35-year history, Press has seen her share of tough customers.
“Working with people that aren’t necessarily cut out for it or have the desire to alter themselves for the career they have chosen — they can be quite challenging.”
But Press says that what drives her and what she enjoys most about being a flying instructor is working with people and teaching them something they don’t know.
“It is really satisfying when people actually grasp what you’re talking about and run with it and they themselves have careers and they come back to you and then say, ‘This is the best thing I ever did in my life.’”