Accomplished Aviator Charts Course of Achievement Inside and Outside of the Flight Deck
At age 27, Zoey Williams is the first Black female pilot at Air Canada and holds two aviation degrees and an MBAA from Embry-Riddle.
Zoey Williams ('18, '20, '21) is proof that there are no limits in the sky. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
The 27-year-old Ontario, Canada, native already holds four college degrees—including three from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University—and, as a Boeing 777 First Officer at Air Canada, has the kind of full-time flying job that many aspiring pilots can only dream about.
As the airline’s first Black female pilot, Zoey has been featured in videos by Air Canada and the Elevate Aviation 2023 Women of Inspire and was also selected among the Top 20 Under 40 by Wings Magazine.
For Zoey, these accomplishments are just part of a remarkable life that’s seen her excel in roles that include flying the rugged expanse of northern Ontario, Canada, performing as a singer with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, teaching college-level aviation courses, working in digital marketing and flight operations and, most recently, writing a children’s book focused on flying and encouraging young people to pursue their passions.
“I'm a very firm believer that anything's possible with focus,” said Zoey. “I'm happy with all the things that I'm passionate about, but I have a lot of interests and I still always say you never know where life can take you.”
Life has already taken Zoey to some unusual places. As the daughter of a pilot, she grew up all over the world, including Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Doha, Qatar; Trinidad and Tobago; and London, England.
“It was quite an interesting upbringing,” she said. “I grew up on planes.”
A Turbulent Start to Her Aviation Career
With that background, it may seem a foregone conclusion that Zoey would end up on the flight deck of an airliner. But it wasn’t nearly as simple as that.
Growing up, she remembers not liking the sporadic schedules of airline pilots, “so I had actually set my sights on the engineering side of the aviation industry more than the piloting side.”
That seemed to be the right focus for Zoey, especially after she took an introductory flight in a Cessna as a teenager. Her dad Orrett Williams—a Boeing 777 Captain at Air Canada—had suggested the idea, but it did not go well.
Zoey said, “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.’”
Despite the initial reaction, something about the experience struck a chord with her. She decided learning to fly would actually be an opportunity to grow and better prepare herself for the future.
“I did some soul searching and I wanted to conquer my fear,” Zoey said. “I was going to keep going back over and over until I was able to do that. I did my recreational pilot permit in high school and through the process of flight training I went from ‘terrified,’ to ‘this is alright,’ to ‘really loving it.’ That's what pivoted everything from aerospace engineering into flying.”
She also worked for a while in flight operations at a small airport during high school, a job that was also suggested by her dad.
“He really wanted me to start off my career on the ramp somewhere and have an appreciation for the different roles that go into making an airline work,” Zoey said. “When it's blowing snow and minus 15 in Toronto, there are a whole group of people out there making it happen and I have been out there with them. So, I know my dad was 100% correct.”
She eventually moved on to attend a flight college in North Ontario.
Why Choose Online Education at Embry-Riddle Worldwide?
By the time she turned 19, Zoey was a certified flight instructor and went on to teach college-level aviation lecture courses as she built her flight time through airborne flight instruction. It was about then that a fellow pilot told her about online learning opportunities at Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus.
“I looked at many other universities to find the right fit, but it always kept coming back to Embry-Riddle,” Zoey said. “They had professors who understood the industry, who understood the schedule of an airline pilot and the growth of an aviation career and the amount of attention that you need to put in what you're doing.”
With her prior credits and teaching experience, Zoey was able to earn her A.S. in Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle in 2018. She then went to work on her B.S. in Aeronautics, which she was awarded in February 2020.
“I'm so grateful for that,” she said. “We were flying into gravel strips and communities up in polar bear territory that are only accessible year-round by airplane. It was tough flying, but I really enjoyed it and it was a great place to learn and grow.”
Wasaya also supported her pursuit of her B.S. at Embry-Riddle.
“Not only the chief pilot but also a lot of managers that I worked with were very enthusiastic about my education at Embry-Riddle, and they gave me a ton of flexibility,” Zoey said. “The airline itself was actually invested in my education and wanted to see me succeed.”
And, of course, succeeding was just what she did.
She soon landed a job as a First Officer on the Embraer 175 for the now-defunct Sky Regional Airlines, where she traded in flights to the Canadian wilderness for tamer destinations such as Toronto, LaGuardia and Atlanta.
That position ultimately led her to a job at Air Transat, where she was supposed to begin her training right about the time the pandemic hit. While she had been planning to earn a graduate degree anyway, the forced airline shutdown accelerated that plan and Zoey began the Master of Business Administration in Aviation program at Worldwide, earning her degree in 2021.
“I also started a short-term rental business and did a lot of odd jobs to get my footing in the business world,” Zoey said. Also during the pandemic, she kept her piloting skills by flying a Boeing 737 for Flair Airlines.
When restrictions eased and travel picked up, Zoey got a call to return to Air Transat to fly the Airbus, and then she also got a call to join Air Canada. She then entered training for the flag carrier and landed a coveted spot on the Boeing 777, where she now sometimes gets to fly alongside her dad.
“One of the goals that I had was operating flights with my father, and that’s something that we were able to do in 2023,” Zoey said.
Breaking Ground and Igniting Inspiration
Although she has already realized many of her dreams, Zoey is far from finished. She is an active singer and songwriter, showcasing her musical skills on her YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and LinkedIn platforms.
Zoey is now branching out as an author with her first book, Go Where You Belong, which is being published in English and French and is illustrated by her sister.
“It’s a creative take on flying, like sprouting wings and actually flying,” Zoey said, adding that the book idea came about because “I was approached a lot in airports by little girls who were saying they didn’t know girls could be pilots. I’ve heard that too many times, and I want those little girls to know they can do it, too.”
Zoey says she plans to keep flying, singing and writing for the foreseeable future. She also plans to be ready for whatever new opportunities come over the next horizon, especially as an aspiring entrepreneur.
“I love what I do, and I am very happy with my career,” she said. “But there are so many doors open that I never want to box myself into one possibility for the future.”
Zoey is proud to serve as a role model for others who look like her, and she is grateful for the chance to inspire young people toward aviation careers. For those who may want to follow in her accomplished footsteps, Zoey offers this advice:
“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.”
What passions could you pursue here? Apply at Embry-Riddle today.