October 18, 2023

COPA Scholarships, opening doors for members and aspiring pilots

Jon Robinson

Ashley Gellatly, recipient of a COPA Advanced Flight Training Scholarship.

— By Sharon Cheung

Each year COPA does its part to help deserving members and aspiring pilots reach their goals through its scholarship program. In recent years, we increased our annual scholarships from $14,000 (two awards) to nearly $30,000 (eight awards).

Through generous donations made to our COPA Flight Safety Foundation, we have awarded more than $330,000 in scholarship funding over the past few decades. Please consider contributing to our foundation, and helping other pilots get their start in General Aviation. Keep reading to learn about the stories of this year’s recipients below!

COPA’s scholarship program will begin accepting applications starting January 8, 2024.

Neil J. Armstrong Ab-Initio Scholarship

Applicants for this scholarship, aged 16 to 21, are assessed on their demonstrated interest in aviation, community involvement, academic achievements, ability to set and achieve goals, and commitment to earning their Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL). This year’s recipient is David He, from Burnaby, BC, who was awarded $14,000 to pursue his PPL.

Despite financial struggles that influenced David to take on several part-time jobs and help support his family, he has accomplished much at the age of 20. His enthusiasm for public policy has led to his appointment to the Prime Minister’s Youth Council to provide non-partisan advice to the federal government on various issues. And David’s passion for aviation has taken him from joining the Air Cadets to hundreds of hours of simulation time to starting online ground school and finally to becoming this year’s COPA Neil J. Armstrong Ab-Initio Scholarship recipient.

COPA New Wings Scholarship

New this year, Diamond Doors, a Canadian commercial bifold door manufactured located in Winkler, Manitoba, stepped in to help us introduce the COPA New Wings Scholarship. This $5,000 scholarship award supports an individual 21 and older pursing a private pilot’s licence.

Amanda Poirier from Lindsay, Ontario, is the inaugural recipient of the New Wings Scholarship and is the first in her family to become a pilot. She began her flight training at the end of 2021 in Lindsay and recently received her PPL in August with Canadian Flight Academy in Oshawa, Ontario. Her aviation journey began later than some. Her stepdad heard her talk about her desire to fly and booked her a discovery flight for her 31st birthday. As soon as the wheels left the ground, Amanda knew this was what she wanted to do with her life. Having earned her PPL, she is now working toward her night rating, float rating and CPL with a goal of piloting fly-in charters in northern Ontario.

“My advice to anyone with that urge to fly is to visit your local flight school and book your discovery flight but be prepared that your life will change from that day forward. I also believe that it’s extremely important to get involved in the aviation community, and to find opportunities to volunteer where you can,” Amanda says. “I am an active volunteer with my local chapter of the Ninety Nines International Organization of Women Pilots. I currently manage the social media accounts and website for my local chapter, the First Canadian Ninety Nines, and through this I have met many amazing pilots, mentors, and have found life-long friends.”

Advanced Flight Training Scholarships

The COPA Advanced Flight Training Scholarship supports COPA members interested in pursuing advanced flight training. This year, COPA awarded three recipients with $2,500 each to Lauren Nagel (Ottawa, ON), Annie Wen (Alfred, ON), and Ashley Gellatly (Walkerton, ON).

Lauren Nagel took her first discovery flight at CNF4 in 2016. Initially, she thought they were just flying for fun with one of her dad’s friends (because that’s what he told her), so she was confused when this ‘friend’ started teaching her how to use the controls. Nonetheless, she felt comfortable and enjoyed the flight. Back on the ground, Lauren’s father revealed that this ‘friend’ was a flight instructor. He told her that he wanted to get his pilot’s license and asked if Lauren wanted to get hers as well, now that she had this low-pressure trial run.

Lauren explains, that at the time, it felt like there were many reasons to say no: It was expensive, she was still in school, it would be hard to find the time. But all those reasons didn’t matter because she was already hooked. Lauren eventually started her flight training at CNF4, getting her RPP in 2017 followed by her PPL in 2018 at CYRO. Earning her pilot’s license changed her life, career path and hobbies. Lauren became active with the McGill University Students’ Flying Club, interned for COPA, and finally in 2020 graduated and began working at a Gatineau-based aerospace company serving the drone and electric aviation sectors.

Today, Lauren spends most of her time volunteering for the Ottawa branch of CASARA (Civil Air Search and Rescue Association), where she is a certified navigator. Lauren uses her flying to explore Canada, to show her network what it means to be a private pilot, and to give back. Lauren will be using this scholarship to pursue her night rating.

Annie Wen’s start in aviation was through the Air Cadet’s Glider Pilot Scholarship program in 2008 in Debert, Nova Scotia. She obtained her PPL the following summer through the Power Pilot Scholarship program. Annie holds a bachelor’s degree in software engineering and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. She currently works at Air Canada Cargo on the Artificial Intelligence team. During her studies, she pursued internships in the aerospace industry and continued flight training for her night rating.

Over the past 10 years she has been gradually building hours for her CPL, passing the written exam in 2021 and her flight test in 2022. Annie plans to use the funds from the COPA Advanced Flight Training Scholarship for her multi-engine rating. She is currently the governor of the East Canada Section of The Ninety-Nines. One of the major initiatives she is working on this year is to pursue Charitable Status with the Canada Revenue Agency. This will enable the section to receive the donation of a Piper PA28-140 Cherokee for members to build hours at a low cost and continue to receive donations. The team is following the model started by the Manitoba Chapter of The Ninety-Nines, currently offering a Cessna 150 for members to build hours. The goal is to remove financial barriers and encourage more women to pursue aviation.

On a personal level, Annie and her husband both share a passion for General Aviation. They live on a small hobby farm where they are clearing enough space for a small grass strip. Last year, they assembled a Quonset hut for hangar space to work on their Kitfox IV. They continue working on the project during evenings and weekends but look forward to the day when their aircraft is finally airworthy to attend COPA fly-ins and share this freedom to fly with others.

Ashley Gellatly was an avid reader of historical fiction when she was a young teen. She read a novel about a wartime pilot and was instantly hooked. That military-inspired introduction to aviation led her to joining the Air Cadets and in 2018 she completed the program’s PPL training program within seven weeks.

To assist her goals to become a training captain, Ashley has had several accomplishments including earning her CPL through the Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre, recently graduating from the aviation program at the University of Waterloo and is now working toward her flight instructor rating. While Ashley has a natural love for teaching, she feels flight instructing is a gateway to multi-crew flying.

Drone Pilot Scholarships

Through the COPA Drone Pilot Scholarship, COPA members can obtain their advanced RPAS certifications. This year COPA helped three COPA members in pursuing advanced RPAS training: Isaac Esikhaty of Lakefield, ON; Robert Whitley of Edmonton, AB; and Abdoul Kader Kimba Dodo of Montreal, QC.

Isaac Esikhaty grew up on an air force military base and it planted the aviation seed in his life earlier on. However, it was not until graduating university and finding a job that he could finance his PPL training. Now holding a PPL and working at a private, coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades nine through 12 in Ontario, Isaac has combined his passion to inspire youth in STEM subjects with his passion for aviation by launching a Drone Program this past year at the school he works at.

Isaac launched this new program as his personal mission to inspire youth to explore and bring ideas into the world of aviation, and to foster the discipline and safety culture of aviation through standardized operating procedures. Isaac feels that in a world where the attention of our youth is increasingly distracted by social media and cell phones, it is necessary to increase opportunities for creative outlets that harness technology as a tool.

The drone program that Isaac has created has three components:  1. A 20-hour ground school on the knowledge requirements for the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) basic certificate, on lithium polymer battery safety and on drone privacy guidance; 2. The assembly of a quadcopter kit where students configure a flight controller using Mission planner, connect and map servos, culminating the unit with a test flight mission; and 3 Drone flying missions which begin with basic flight maneuvers and advance to mission objectives in automated flight: search and rescue search grids, survey patterns, and taking dynamic drone footage.

Robert Whitley has been a member of COPA Flight 51 in Wetaskiwin, AB, for 30 years and recently retired as Captain of COPA Flight 176. His passion for aviation started during his first flight as a five-year-old and he’s been active in model aviation since 1971. In Air Cadets, he earned Technical Training (airframe/aero engine), Senior Leaders, a PPL, and Glider Pilot Scholarships and finished with the cadet rank of Warrant Officer 2nd class. Robert has his night endorsement, taildragger, CPL, Glider License, Multi-Engine, and Class II Flight Instructor qualifications, as well as the RPAS basic certificate. He was active with the local gliding club while in the military and posted to Lahr, Germany. Nine years after release he re-enlisted into the RCAF CIC Reserve eventually retiring as Commanding Officer.

Robert is a freelance instructor to better serve aspiring pilots in their own aircraft and has flown 53 aircraft types to date. Over the years Robert has been heavily involved with his community in a variety of areas, including with EAA as the Chapter 30 President; serving on a national advisory committee for the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada; receiving a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his outstanding volunteer work with various veterans’ associations for over 35 years; flying hundreds of young people through COPA’s Discover Aviation program, the cadets and the EAA Young Eagles program, and in becoming a Founding Director for the Alberta Aviation Museum Facility and the National Air Cadet Museum and Archives, both located in Edmonton. All the best to Robert who plans to use his advanced drone certification to enhance his knowledge and share it with those interested in RPAS, model aircraft, and General Aviation.

Abdoul Kader Kimba Dodo has a glider pilot licence that he obtained in 2011 through the Air Cadets. He also has his PPL and is currently studying for his CPL at the Saint Hubert Flying College. Abdoul has a skydiving license with more than 229 jumps to date and has been working at Montreal Airport (CYUL) for more than seven years as a trainer and bay manager in aircraft de-icing at Aeromag 2000. Abdoul has de-iced more than 11,036 aircraft now. The world of aviation has always fascinated and motivated Abdoul since his childhood and he intends to finish his flying lessons and start working for an airline as soon as possible. In addition to his involvement with COPA, Abdoul is an active member of the Black Aviation Professional Network (BAPN) and he recently participated in an event at the VIP Pilot Centre in Montréal to promote black talent in aviation.