Jamie Klaes has deep roots in Alaska. She grew up in Bettles, a town whose population numbers just a few dozen, north of the Arctic Circle. No roads led to Bettles, but Bettles had a long, gravel runway.

“The only option to get in and out was to fly an airplane…or drive a dog team,” she says.

Klaes’ parents supported their family with the first of those two transportation options, impressing upon their daughter from an early age the critical importance of aviation to their rural community – and hundreds of others across the vast and rugged state.

Jamie Klaes with John & Martha King celebrate her scholarship at the WAI conference in Orlando, Florida.

Getting groceries, medical care and mail all required an airplane.

Jamie Klaes, this year’s winner of the WAI Martha King Scholarship for Female Flight Instructors, has made it her life’s mission to help preserve that way of life.

“My family had a small air taxi with three airplanes, we flew visitors into the remote Brooks Range, the northernmost mountain range in North America,” the now 43-year-old Klaes says.

Her parents shared flying responsibilities, and the only female pilot she had met until well after she finished high school was her mother. And even though she had lived and breathed aviation from a young age, “it was still hard to find the confidence to do it myself.”

Klaes did eventually follow in her parents’ footsteps and became a commercial pilot. Her first piloting jobs included medevac, tours, and air taxi, and she also holds flight instructor and ATP certificates.

But she knew that her story and her aviation career progression could unleash even more good, somehow. She wanted young people in Alaska to benefit.

“I realized that other youths who did not grow up with role models in the aviation industry or access to airplanes could really struggle to believe they could achieve something like that,” she says. In addition, the high cost of flight training has always been a substantial barrier.

She launched an educational program for rural youth in honor of her Alaskan native adopted brother, who passed away unexpectedly in 2016.

“My brother’s passing changed the trajectory of my life and all of the students I’m serving,” she says. It made her realize that not only did his life have a great impact, but the timing of his death was the spark to motivate her to do something to change things for the better.

She named her company CKT Aviation, after him. CKT, based in Anchorage, contracts with Alaska Excel, which provides academic and technical education for rural Alaska youth.

“We are now working with almost 20 remote school districts to offer introductory courses into aviation,” she says. “Upon graduating, high school students are offered internships at local air taxis while they continue their training.”

The program also provides mentorship and support beyond the airport ramp. It helps the students find housing and transportation, as they build their aviation careers. About 90% of the graduates stay in Alaska, and 70% of them stay in rural Alaska.

“I’m really proud of that,” she says. “The fact that they’re not leaving – it really impacts the health and well-being of these communities.”

One of her scholarship recommenders says, “Jamie’s dedication to empowering underserved youth in Alaska through aviation is exceptional.”

Another adds, “Her efforts have played a significant role in introducing these youths to the world of aviation, opening doors to opportunities they might not have otherwise had.”

2024 marks the ninth year that King Schools has partnered with WAI to hand out the financial support package to a deserving female pilot, which is valued at over $20,000 – a $5,000 stipend to go toward flight training, and lifelong access to all of King Schools’ aviation training curricula, valued at $14,120.

Klaes plans to use the stipend to get her instrument instructor certificate as well as a multi-engine instructor certificate.

“In the next five to ten years, I see myself mentoring more flight instructors that want to continue teaching rural Alaskans,” she says. “I am not only dedicated to achieving my own aviation goals but also to inspire the next generation of rural Alaskan youth to reach for aviation careers.”

Without air transportation, the rural Alaskan way of life Jamie Klaes grew up with and continues to love dearly would no longer exist.

“For our rural population, aviation is a lifeline.”

Applications for the 2025 WAI Martha King Scholarship for Female Flight Instructors will become available in mid-2024.

For information regarding the WAI Martha King Scholarship for Female Flight Instructors visit – www.wai.org/scholarships

Share the Story