B. July 13, 1947, Lethbridge, Alberta
Rosella Bjornson was the first woman in North America to be hired as a First Officer for a Canadian airline. Rosella wanted to be a pilot her whole life. Her family owned a Second World War Avro Anson, and as a child she would often take flights with her father as well as use as a playhouse. On her 17th birthday she took her first flying lesson and was determined to make flying her career.
Rosella attended the University of Calgary to obtain her Bachelor of Science in Geology and Geography, but devoted her summers to acquiring her Commercial License and Instructor Rating. Upon leaving school in 1969 she was hired as a flying instructor for the Winnipeg Flying Club. By 1972, she had the additional qualifications needed to fulfil her dream of becoming an airline pilot.
In 1973, after numerous refusals, Rosella was hired by Transair as North America’s first female First Officer. She achieved several other firsts throughout her flying career: first female airline pilot in Canada, first female captain in Canadian aviation, first woman awarded the 89th Gold Seal of Proficiency from the Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association, first female officer on a Fokker F28 jet, and first female member of the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association.
Rosella was a pioneer in her occupation, and she made a difference in the lives of female pilots across Canada, especially when it came to the regulations surrounding pregnancy. During her first pregnancy in 1979, a national regulation stated that a woman could not fly while pregnant, as there was no maternity leave, this meant Rosella had to take unpaid leave for her full pregnancy. After this experience she worked with Transport Canada to revise the regulations surrounding pregnancy and flying.
Although not a self-declared feminist, Rosella’s passionate pursuit of her career put her in the spotlight. In 1988, she was inducted into the International Forest of Friendship; in 1997, she was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. She is also in the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame and is a recipient of the National Transportation Award of Achievement.
In 2004 Rosella retired after flying for five airlines with a total of 18,000 hours. She is currently a motivational speaker and advocate for women in aviation. She continues to fly in her personal time.