Sarah Spry has never looked back since taking on the UAV pilot training program at a Canadian flight school

Tell us about yourself, how did you get started in the drone industry?

My name is Sarah Spry, I’m 34 years old and a mother of two beautiful children aged three and four.  Becoming a mother truly changes your life. My thought patterns changed, my relationships changed, things that mattered to me, it all changed.

I was impacted so much in many different ways and I found myself questioning everything. I constantly analyzed everything in my life wanting to ensure I gave my kids the best of everything including myself.  I analyzed food choices, sleep routines, and parenting styles. I had a choice to make; do I go back to work or stay home with my kids?     

I work for the Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre (WWFC), one of the largest flight training institutions in Canada. When I made the leap and returned from my second maternity leave a little over two years ago, I decided to take a chance and branch out from my role as Office Manager & Accountant. WWFC was just getting into UAV pilot training and needed someone to lead the program. Feeling the need for change and a chance to grow my career, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and take it on.

At that time I had four years of aviation experience and a business management background. Needless to say I was very nervous about switching my focus, especially because I knew nothing about drones. However, I was driven and determined to succeed. I jumped in and learned as much as I could by reading, taking courses, gaining drone flying experience and attending several conferences.

Now over two years later and with the help of four fantastic flight instructors, our program is a huge success and growing more and more each month. The program delivers a high level of education, hands on flying and an understanding of Canadian regulations both commercial and recreational. I too have started teaching and speaking at conferences, which would have terrified me just three short years ago. Today I’m leading the UAV program and focusing further course development, regulations, custom courses and creating our brand within the industry. I have also started training for my Private Pilot’s licence to expand my knowledge base and aid in both career and program development.

Industry Experience:

What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?

There is just so much to learn about the industry it’s truly remarkable. I love that I am kept on my toes. Drones are changing the way business is done in nearly every industry and they are going to become a way of the future. This technology may not be completely understood by the general population quite yet, and is often negatively reported in the media. However, the truth is drones are being used for great things, such as lifesaving tasks, including dropping medical supplies and removing workers from danger, as well as working at heights and delivering information to decision makers much more quickly than the alternative means. I could go on and on about the benefits. Drones are here to stay and will continue to become an integral part of our society. I’m just so happy to be helping shape that future and the future of pilots.

Do you have a success story you would like to share?

Working with my team at WWFC to build our UAV program from zero to where it is today is probably the biggest success to date. We’ve taught people from many different industries the regulations, how to fly a drone and much more. Reading the feedback and talking to students during and after the course has been very positive. Customers are extremely thankful for our assistance not only during the course, but also via the Facebook group and individual correspondence. Changes and growth in this industry are ongoing, so having someone to talk to and ask questions is very beneficial. I am proud to lead and be a part of the program and to see how successful it’s been.  

What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?

I don’t consider myself a feminist. I believe in equality for all and to achieve that we should look at individual accomplishments as opposed to achievements by demographic. In the UAV industry there is a huge opportunity for women, or anyone for that matter to get involved and make a difference. UAVs are here to stay and will impact our everyday lives in so many ways. There are lots of opportunities for training, manufacturing, engineering, piloting and much more. An interest or experience in aviation is definitely not a prerequisite. If anyone is looking to step outside of the box and experience something new and exciting, getting into the UAV industry should definitely be considered. I’ve loved every moment and haven’t looked back since I got involved more than two years ago.

What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment since you entered the industry?

I have always known that the number of women in the aviation industry and STEM were enormously under represented. Now I’m going to be vulnerable here for a moment and say, I never really understood the need to point this out. I felt it victimized women and we would rise through with our dedication and hard work, proving that we were equal.

This was all until it happened to me. It took being victimized to realize that there is still a huge gap in gender equality and it doesn’t matter how much education or focus we commit, for some we are still not seen as equal. After some self-reflection, I realized that women empowering women is not victimization. Its motivation, perseverance and I felt ashamed for my prior thoughts. It took me experiencing it first-hand to recognize this and to have my lightbulb moment and wake up from the bubble I was in.

Now I’m more motivated in my career than I’ve ever been. I have begun to research a bit about the brain and how we process thoughts and form conclusions. I now understand more than ever that our brain is constantly looking for patterns and our subconscious relies on those patterns to form conclusions and how that affects our actions and/or communication.

Gender inequality is everywhere from social media posts to most conference speaker line ups to Fortune 500 CEOs and politicians. Our subconscious picks up all these very small things and files them away.

Later when we ask a question, we make gender biased decisions without even being aware that we have.

Men suffer from this gender inequality as well; they are stereotyped just as much as women are. I understand that in order for the social norms to change both men and women need to speak out about equality.

What would you say to people looking to get into flying drones commercially?

First of all, make sure you have a problem that you are solving or improving, or looking to save time or money with the use of a drone.

Drones are cool and it seems everyone wants an excuse to fly them. However, sometimes just a camera on a stick can satisfy a need. Ensure that your current business has a real demand or that your new start up is solving one.

Secondly, remember that the drone itself is not what’s making you money. It’s the payload. Research what it is you need to complete the job and get a UAV that is able to support it adequately.

Thirdly, get trained! Make sure you understand the rules and regulations surrounding flying drones in your area.  They are an aircraft and you are a pilot, so take training seriously. Ensure you do your homework about the institution you choose.  How long have they been training? What are their connections to the evolving industry? What are the qualifications of the instructors?  Remember this is an investment in your future.

Last but not least, practice, practice, practice. That’s the fun part and the more practice, the better.

What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?

Oh dear, I find this to be such a tough question.  Everything! The drone industry is so big and there is so much involved that it can be overwhelming. The best advice I could give someone is to not give up.  Yes, there is a lot to take in and the learning will be ongoing, but becoming an expert is so rewarding.

Connecting:

What’s the best way for W&D readers to connect with you?

Feel free to contact me at:

Sarah Spry
sspry@wwfc.ca
LinkedIn: Sarah Spry

The Final Word:

Is there anything else you would like to share with the Women and Drones Community?

As women we create so much self-doubt.  I just want everyone to know that as difficult as it may seem, try to look past the reasons “not to”. We will always be able to find reasons not to do or try something new.  Find people that believe in you and help to motivate you, be vulnerable and push yourself out of that comfort zone, nothing is beyond your reach. More importantly believe in yourself, you are worth it.

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