Kanchana Gamage, Founder and Director, The Aviatrix Project, received the High Flyer Award at the 2022 IATA Diversity & Inclusion Awards.

As a diversity champion from an ethnic minority background, UK-based Gamage is determined to be a role model for the next generation of women, even though they were thin on the ground when she was starting in the industry.

“It’s not that I didn’t have role models, there just weren’t many available in aviation,” she says. “Fortunately, I had role models in life and studied the qualities that I admired and transferred those skills and that confidence into aviation. We can change the industry landscape if we have the right aviation role models.”

Gamage worked on bridging the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) gap and in 2015 launched the Aviatrix Project. The aim of the project is to raise awareness of aviation as a potential career choice, not only among women and girls but also among people from diverse backgrounds.

“I wanted to create a place to go,” Gamage explains. “I had a cadetship with Aer Lingus when I was 19 years old, but I couldn’t afford to take up the offer. I went into education and built up that the finance to make flight training possible. But by then I had a different ambition. I wanted to create a pipeline of diverse talent into the industry.”

The Aviatrix Project offers sustainable, long-term outreach. As part of the project, Gamage works closely with primary and secondary schools in the United Kingdom and with higher education institutions to encourage girls to pursue STEM options and generate enthusiasm for aviation careers. The project also offers flights, bursaries, and a mentoring program for aspiring pilots as well as support for parents.

“We have 500 volunteers providing mentoring for teenagers,” says Gamage. “The focus remains on supporting ambition to get to the flight deck, but it is increasingly about having transferrable skills. We work in leadership and management, for example. We provide mentors at all levels, not just CEOs, so people can take incremental steps and thoroughly learn the skills they need. That gives people flexibility and a back-up plan.

“But what is truly amazing is the amount of people that are willing to help and give up their time for free,” she adds.

Gamage believes that collaboration is the key to successful diversity and inclusion initiatives and that this is the time to move from representation to transformational change. “I believe in intersectionality, which is about the interconnectedness and overlapping of social categories,” she says. “It helps to understand what factors come into play when people are striving to carve a career in aviation.”

Gamage is certain that air travel will benefit from her work and the work of others promoting diversity. “I think women bring creativity,” she suggests. “Everyone has a story to tell, which means everyone has something to offer. If you accept that aviation needs to innovate for a strong recovery, there is no point in having the same old people in the room. You need different perspectives. And it is not only about women but also about having people from different backgrounds and different ages and with different views. That is the true meaning of diversity.”


Credit | IATA