Female mechanics are quite rare in the aviation sector. Not only is Lisa Krzywinski a fully qualified aviation mechanic, but she is also the subject of a romantic tale that owes itself to the industry.
Starting her career as a flight attendant, Lisa would never have met her husband Mark if she had not discovered her passion for aircraft maintenance.
From flight attendant to plane mechanic
Lisa’s career in aircraft maintenance began eight years ago when she was working for a commercial airline as an experienced flight attendant. But during a repatriation flight from Canada to the Bahamas, which was traveling to collect passengers after an aircraft broke down, Lisa’s interest in the technical aspects of aviation was piqued. Lisa chatted with the rescue crew, in particular the airline mechanics who attended the scene, and was immediately fascinated by the sector.
She says: “I wanted to know more about the profession and, because I worked for the same company, on my days off I went into the hangar and followed mechanics around to see what a day in the life of an aircraft mechanic was.”
It was in the aircraft maintenance hangar where Lisa met Mark for the first time. The two would eventually go on to form a strong friendship.
“After the first time I met him in a hangar, we became friends,” Lisa recalls. “I started taking online courses and then I realized that I could be a flight attendant and attend an aircraft mechanics school [because] I was able to move my schedule. So, I ended up going to school to become a mechanic while I still was a flight attendant.”
Mark’s journey into the aviation industry is a slightly different story. Originally, he had wanted to become a boat mechanic. However, he chose to move into a higher paid sector and became an aviation mechanic, joining the airline where Lisa had already been working as a cabin crew member.
When Mark was qualified to fix certain types of commercial planes, Lisa was studying hard for her degree. Opting to become an airline mechanic is an unusual choice for a woman in Canada, where just 4% of technicians are female. However, Lisa became one of the few female mechanics, helping to actively change the industry.
It took two years for the former flight attendant to receive the required qualifications to repair Airbus A319, A320, and A321 jets, the same type of plane that Mark had been maintaining for some years.
Over time, Lisa and Mark’s friendship blossomed into a relationship.
Working for the same major Canadian airline, both technicians enjoyed the experience of receiving a broken plane in the hangar, making the necessary repairs, and then watching the aircraft take-off again. Almost a decade spent mending engines and jet parts has done nothing to quell their enthusiasm for the job.
Supporting each other through the pandemic
As Lisa worked in the hangar, she was exposed to the gender imbalance in the plane maintenance industry. For Lisa, the stereotype that women do not make good mechanics is still prevalent in the sector. While she holds the same qualifications as her counterparts, it can still feel like she is overlooked.
“Some people still see a difference in genders,” Lisa reveals. “For example, if someone were to ask a question [and] if my husband and I were trained on the exact same thing and we’re both equally qualified, they will always ask him the question, even if I’m standing right beside him, which I find strange. There were definitely people [who] would be part of the ‘boys club’ and didn’t want to include me or wouldn’t ask for my help.”
But issues related to gender inequality did not stop Lisa, and both she and Mark continued to improve their skills.
However, a new challenge soon appeared in the form of a global health crisis.
Already married and living together in Southern Ontario, Mark and Lisa were employed by the same airline on seasonal contracts. This gave the spouses greater flexibility, which meant that they could focus on aircraft maintenance during the busy winter season, making enough money to take the summer period off. But when COVID-19 struck, it completely altered their professional lives.
During the early stages of the pandemic, the couple lost their jobs at the airline. While financial support, which was provided by the Canadian government, was enough to pay bills, the couple were unable to continue living in the way they had pre-pandemic. Providing unconditional support to each other while they were down on their luck, Mark and Lisa sought another source of income.
Aviation apparel and new beginnings
So, the Canadian couple came up with the idea to produce aviation-themed clothing.
Initially, Lisa and Mark had designed a few T-shirts printed with the Ontario International Airport code for personal use, but the couple saw an opportunity for a new business venture, and created clothing company, Phelix & Co. Soon, Lisa and Mark attracted the attention of buyers and the couple decided to print more stock.
Lisa says: “At first we invested around $3,000 into necessary equipment to produce T-shirts with the airport code and brought some to the market to see what would happen. Surprisingly, we were sold out in a day because people liked it. But actually, we weren’t expecting the demand as such.
“I used to write the orders down on a piece of paper and cross them off for each client, but then it got to the point that this was no longer working. We needed to sort the address and how much people paid for shipping, so I made a website, which I’d never done before. I taught myself, it’s not rocket science, but it’s still something that I never really did.”
She adds: “We made our very first website with pictures taken by me. As we slowly got going, we learned how to use Photoshop, so that we can take good-quality pictures.”
The aviation community in Canada, while quite small, is highly supportive. Lisa says that this close-knit group helped to expand their business.
To begin with, all the T-shirts were black, but now Phelix and Co. feature a variety of colorful apparel for aviation enthusiasts, including upcycled aircraft leather wallets, children’s clothing, hoodies, crewnecks, sweatpants, and even aviation-themed socks.
While it is never easy to develop a business, least of all during a pandemic, the couple support each other’s ideas and share responsibility. Lisa is focused on the managerial, accounting, and advertising side of the business, while Mark is more creative and works in product development and design.
Lisa says: “When Mark started drawing and creating new designs, he loved it. He just wakes up and he comes up with a bunch of new ideas on his own. He’s got a lot of creativity, for sure.”
The couple is now attempting to branch out and attract new customers while continuing to introduce upcycled leather products to create awareness of environmental concerns. Phelix and Co. has seen a 75% return on its initial investment, which Mark and Lisa have already reinvested into their growing business. There’s also talk of creating a physical store at Toronto Pearson Airport once airlines resume air travel operations.
However, despite the success of Mark and Lisa’s new business, the husband-and-wife team has not lost their passion for aircraft maintenance. Post-pandemic, the shortage of aircraft maintenance professionals is set to be larger than before. So, both mechanics are keeping their fingers crossed for recovery.