Courtesy Iako’ta:raien Delaronde
It’s quieter in the sky without a co-pilot, and Iako’ta:raien Delaronde found herself floating in the moment. She had been nervous in the days before takeoff, but thousands of feet from the ground, she felt at ease.
“It’s beautiful being up in the air,” she said. “You can see all the clouds around you, and you’re flying, and it’s just an incredible experience.”
As Delaronde soared above small-town Ontario last week, her loved ones watched from the tarmac below. The 25-year-old has had plenty of support in her bid to become Kahnawake’s second-ever commercial airline pilot, but, for the first time, she was in the cockpit all alone.
It’s a flight she will remember for the rest of her life.
“When I finally did go up and do my first solo, it was riveting. It was exciting,” she said. “It was freeing in a way to be able to fly an aircraft by myself and come in for a landing.”
Delaronde’s father, Butch Delaronde, instilled an interest in aviation in her. He had once wanted to become a pilot himself, she said.
“My father would always talk about aircraft,” she remembered.
The aviation industry’s promise of world travel appealed to Delaronde, so in 2019 she began to look into opportunities to become a flight attendant.
When COVID-19 hit, that door seemed to close. Openings dried up instantly.
Delaronde did not lose hope. She explored other options in the industry and soon stumbled upon the First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) in Tyendinaga, which offered the opportunity to study to become a pilot.
“As soon as I found their site, I applied that night, and it just all came together from there,” she said. “I never looked back. I’m just so happy I did that.”
Delaronde has had a positive experience at FNTI, but in February, a fire at the Tyendinaga Mohawk Airport destroyed a hangar and 13 of the school’s planes. As a result, the school’s aviation students have had to continue their studies at other facilities.
Delaronde was placed at Cornwall Aviation, where Kahnawa’kehró:non Glenn French is among the instructors training new pilots.
“Everybody wants to be a pilot. They just need the opportunity,” said French, who got involved in aviation through the military before moving over to flight training.
A pilot’s first solo flight is a training milestone, but according to French, Delaronde is already well on her way to her goal of becoming a commercial pilot.
“About a year from now, I think I can promise you she’ll be in an airline uniform of some kind,” he said, noting pilots are in high demand.
According to Delaronde’s father, the determination she has shown in her aviation journey is nothing new.
“When she sets her mind to something, there’s no stopping her,” he said.
“I know that she will succeed and eventually will be a great pilot. I believe that she will succeed in anything that she wants to do.”
He was among the family present for Delaronde’s inaugural solo flight.
“I was excited at first,” he said. “Then, when the instructor got out, my nerves kicked in. That’s when it got real.”
Delaronde hopes other Kahnawa’kehró:non may be inspired to cultivate their own aviation dreams after learning about her experience.
“Going into the aviation industry for Kahnawa’kehró:non is not super common. Maybe it’s not even something a lot of people know is possible for people from Kahnawake, and I just want to kind of put the word out there,” she said.
“I knew I would like it, but I didn’t think I would completely fall in love with it.”