8 MARCH 2019

Debbie Breklemans is Operations Manager and Chief Pilot at Sable Aviation in Halifax, Canada. Debbie has been flying for thirty-one years, flying light piston twin aircraft and turbo-props primarily in eastern Canada and the United States.

Debbie owns Sable Aviation with her husband and took over running the company from her husband in 2016 so that he could take partial retirement. The aircraft charter service operates flights using its Islander aircraft from Halifax to Sable Island. Debbie describes Sable Island as an amazing little sand bar in the North Atlantic Ocean that is inhabited by a handful of federal government personnel, hundreds of wild horses, thousands of birds and hundreds of thousands of grey seals. There isn’t an airport on the island so Debbie lands on the beach.

“I have faced a few challenges as a female pilot, but nothing of major significance”, Debbie says, when asked about her experience as a female in the industry. “Mostly, it has been a case of people not necessarily recognising me as the pilot, including assuming that my male First Officer is the Captain, even though he is wearing three gold bars on his shoulder and I’m wearing four.”

“One fond memory I have is of a time in Deer Lake when I was waiting in the terminal for my passengers. I was wearing my captain’s uniform and two elderly ladies asked if I was the pilot. When  I told them that I was, they both oohed and aahed, exclaiming that they had never met a female pilot before. Their reaction of delight was touching because I thought about how, when they were younger, they would have had such limited career choices. They seemed thrilled that a woman could now have any career she wants, even one as a pilot!”


Angela LeFevre-Welke is President of Island Airways on Beaver Island in Michigan. Angela began her career in aviation in 2002 when she married Paul Welke, the Owner and Chief Pilot at Island Airways. Over the course of several years, Angela developed an understanding of the business and now runs the day-to-day operations of the aviation charter service that operates between Charlevoix and Beaver Island.

She manages the company’s twenty-five permanent staff members, charter flight scheduling, inventory control and accounts. Angela and her husband own Welke Airport and Angela coordinates Fixed Based Operations (FBO) at the airport as well as interacting with local, State and Federal agencies regarding the airport’s operations. Island Airways is a Federal Aviation Administration certified hazardous materials shipping agent and Angela has full oversight of this program.

Angela’s favourite aspect of running Island Airways is the sound of an Islander departing. “I simply never get tired of the sound!”

On whether she has faced any challenges as a female in the industry, Angela said she has been incredibly lucky to be part of such a great team at Island Airways. “In the early 1970s Welke Aviation was started by Paul and his parents, Bill and Betty. Betty ran the business from her kitchen table for many years and all decisions were approved by Betty at that table! Since Welke Aviation merged with McPhillips Flying Service in the 1980s, there has always been a great deal of leadership by and respect for women in the organisation.” 


Julie Simper is the Managing Director at the Airtask Group headquartered at Cranfield Airport in Bedfordshire, UK. The company provides bespoke mission based aviation solutions to government and commercial clients and owns two BN2B-20 Islanders. Julie fell into a career in aviation; after being made redundant from a previous accounting position, she interviewed for a temporary position at Airtask (formerly Directflight) and was offered the position of Finance Manager. This turned into a full time position and as Julie’s understanding of the wider business operations grew, she was promoted to General Manager in 2003.

As General Manager, Julie was responsible for overseeing the Shetland Island Council’s Public Service Obligation (PSO) inter-island air service that operated BN2 Islanders. Julie became Commercial Director in 2009 and Managing Director in 2014. Her message to anyone starting a career in the industry is that “hard work and determination really does pay off!”.

Julie’s role as Managing Director is very diverse. She says “My core role covers financial, commercial, operational, safety and compliance, to name just a few. I like to get involved at any level where I can be helpful; some days I can be found answering the telephones or in the hangar understanding a technical issue, other days I may have my head buried in spreadsheets putting together proposals or out on the floor discussing operational challenges.”

With regards to working in a male dominated industry, Julie says, “I wouldn’t say I have felt it has held me back.  I have had the odd moment where it has been assumed I may be there to take minutes in a meeting but that was very early on in my career and I certainly have not had that for many years now. I am very lucky to be in a job I love and to work with such great people.


International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. For more information, visit



REF: 1114BN/080319




About Britten-Norman 

Britten-Norman, the UK’s only civil A2 approved aircraft manufacturer, has been designing and building aircraft for over 60 years. Models include the famous Islander and Trislander commuter variants and the latest Manned Airborne Surveillance/ISTAR platform, the Defender 4000. 

The Company’s capabilities include subcomponent manufacturing, mission systems integration, test and trials, maintenance, repair and overhaul, aviation training and global customer support. Britten-Norman is backed by approvals from CAA (A8-21), EASA (21J/G, 145, 147, ATO & Part M), and the UK MoD (DAOS, MAOS & CFAOS). 


About the Islander

The Islander is one of the world’s most successful and enduring aircraft designs. The aircraft’s international acclaim is attributed to its exemplary proven performance as a high capacity, multi-role, high frequency, rough terrain, short take off and landing workhorse.

The aircraft’s ability to operate in some of the world’s harshest environments has given the Islander an outstanding reputation for superior performance, twin engine safety and high operating reliability. All this is delivered with exceptionally low through-life and direct operating costs, making the Islander the aircraft of choice for operators and the backbone of communities across the world.

Executive, commuter, freight and special mission fit options (including air ambulance, parachuting, crop spraying and aerial survey) are all readily available as standard. This is possible from a single or dual pilot operation aircraft.

With its durable design, choice of dependable engines and advanced cockpit avionics, the Islander affords maximum proven versatility and ease of operation, even in the most remote and hostile locations.


For further information please contact: 

Fenna Maynard 

PR Coordinator - Britten-Norman

Tel: +44 20 3317 4000 / +44 79 7000 1047


Sean Feast

Director - Gravity London

Tel: +44 20 7330 8810


Follow Britten-Norman online via Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @BrittenNorman