Zoey Williams earned her first pilot’s license at the age of 16 and now Air Canada’s first Black female pilot

BY Preta Peace Namasaba February 28, 2024 2:31 PM EDT
Zoey Williams. Photo credit: Zoey Williams

Black pilots remain a rarity for airlines in North America. According to the Federal Aviation Association Black pilots represent less than four percent of the profession in the US as of 2023 – an astonishingly low figure considering African-Americans make up 14 percent of the population. On the other hand, Air Canada only employs 30 Black pilots with 7 as captains in a roster of more than 4,000 pilots. With four college degrees, 27-year-old Zoey Williams broke glass ceilings by becoming Air Canada’s first Black female pilot.

Williams describes her childhood as “quite an interesting upbringing.” She spent her early years catching many flights and living overseas in Europe, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and the Middle East with her father who was a pilot. He encouraged her to take an introductory flight as a teenager to start the process of becoming a pilot. But when Williams took on the challenge in a Cessna, she was terrified. Instead of giving up, she decided to conquer her fear and pursued flight training. She earned her first pilot’s license by the age of 16.

“I had traveled commercially and at the airline level as a passenger for my whole life. But in that small plane, I was terrified. My knees were shaking, it was bumpy, and my hands were sweating. I went home and I said, ‘I’ll never do that again’,” Williams said of her first experience flying.

Still, Williams was hesitant about becoming a pilot due to the inconsistent schedule and her previous negative flying experience. She nonetheless wanted to pursue her interest in aircraft after graduating high school and further her education in aviation engineering. She acquired an advanced diploma in aviation flight management and a bachelor’s in aeronautics and aviation management. At 19 years old, Williams became a certified flight instructor.

Williams has since held multiple roles in the industry. She flew the Beechcraft 1900 in challenging conditions and made her mark as a First Officer for Sky Regional Airlines before transitioning to Air Transat. Despite the disruptions brought on by the pandemic, she pursued an MBA in Aviation from Embry-Riddle while engaging in diverse ventures. Williams started a short-term rental business and was flying a Boeing 737 for Flair Airlines.

After conquering her fear of the smaller planes, Williams was ready to soar to new heights in the world of aviation. She became the first Black female pilot to join the Canadian Airlines team at 27 years old. Williams made history once again within the organization as the first Black female pilot to fly a Boeing 777. She has achieved these remarkable feats alongside her father Orrett Williams, a Boeing 777 Captain at Air Canada.

“If you have a burning desire to do something, don’t bury it. Keep your focus, build your networks, share your goals and show your passion in everything you do. That’s how you can end up doing things you love day in and day out,” Williams said about the importance of pursuing one’s aspirations.

A multi-talented personality, Williams showcases her musical skills on various platforms. She is currently in the process of finalizing her upcoming book, “Go Where You Belong” intended to inspire young minds.