Flora Selemani- Ngwilinji, 33, has followed her heart to be the person she has always dreamed of. She is a typical example of someone determined to succeed in a male dominated field by becoming a commercial pilot. Having completed her military training from where she became a soldier, she proceeded to serve as a presidential air hostess. Her experiences of flying eventually paved way for her interest to fly. She realised that the cabin was not enough as she wanted to be in the cockpit. She shares her story with Caroline Somanje.
How did you develop an interest in flying?
My interest in flying grew in me ever since I was a young girl. I was always interested in flying when I saw pilots fly big aircrafts such as Airbus 380. I always wondered how they flew it hence the urge to fly caircrafts grew in me. So I told myself that sky will be my home not my limit.
What motivated your career change to a male dominated field from your days of being a stewardess?
It is the desire to fly that motivated me to consider flying and seeing Felistas Mkandawire flying a Boeing also motivated me. I know it is a male- dominated industry but I kept telling myself that I can also fly an aircraft. There is nothing impossible as long as you believe. I was once an air hostess and I was tired of the cabin. I wanted to be in the cockpit.
How long did it take you to obtain your licence?
It took me like three years. Let me take this opportunity to acknowledge the Amy Commander whom I would like to thank for permitting me to go for the training and according me a three-year leave for the same. I shall be forever indebted to him and the entire army for its support.
Where did you do your training?
I did it at flight training service, the Grand Central Airport in Midrands in South Africa.
What have been your experiences in this field during your training up until you completed?
There have been so many experiences but all in all it is the experiences that prepare us to become good pilots. For me, all the experiences have added a positive impact to my training. My most memorable experience is when I flew solo. Being in the air alone without an instructor was just amazing. Imagine leaving the world with its troubles and going up to meet the birds that do not gossip. Is this not awesome? My other memorable experience is when I got my license. It was then that I knew that indeed nothing is impossible. I also recall the exam period as an experience. I will never forget studying till late and waking up early. But like I said, it was all for a good cause, which is to prepare me to be a good pilot.
What keeps you going?
It is the word of God that keeps me going. Matthews 6 verse 33 says: “Seek first the kingdom of God”. The word of God is the source of my comfort. It gives me strength and hope from day to day. And my husband Jimmy Mabvuto Ngwilinji keeps me going. He encourages me when I lose hope and I always quote his saying that God’s time is the best. In this man I have found everything; my friend, my father, motivator, a loving and caring husband
How were you steward days like and its influence on being a pilot?
I really enjoyed being a stewardess. I was always in the air. It sort of paved way for me to be a pilot as I got used to the idea of being in the air. I would sometimes see what the pilots were doing.
Now that you are a commercial pilot, have you abandoned your military career?
No I have not. I’m still in the military but as a pilot now. I’m still eligible to fly in the military with my commercial pilot license. Flying in the military is an added value to my career as the experience is considered to be something great since most of the best pilots are usually from the military. I love soldiering.
What have been your professional challenges?
Flying is very challenging, especially for black female pilots because there is always an impression that black people, especially women, cannot make it. And if you ask every black pilot, they have a story to tell but at the end of the day we are all pilots. It is also very expensive to train as a pilot making it very challenging. I am very grateful to my husband who worked hard day and night hustling for my fees. I really appreciate my man. He loves seeing me in the cockpit and I also love flying. Nothing makes me happier than flying. I feel this is where I belong and something I have passion for.
What about your personal challenges?
As I have said that my husband was always there for me so I did not have many personal challenges. But the biggest challenge I have faced is trying to get into a career that is male dominated. Also the industry is now getting very competitive due to the fact that there are many pilots.
What are your expectations in terms of settling down in your new career?
There are a lot of expectations. One of them is being a captain. I will also be working towards being a training captain and a DE (Designated Examiner). I would also like to open up my own flying schools and enable people’s dream of flying come true and maybe start a foundation to assist those who have the aptitude to fly but are unable to afford the training fees.
How was serving the president like during your stewardess days?
Serving the president was awesome. Just imagine being close to the president of a country?
Tell us who you are and your educational background.
I am Flora Selemani Ngwilinji, born to Rex William Selemani and the late Jane Mataka. I am the second born in a family of seven. I grew up in Ndirande Township in Blantyre and attended Namalimwe and Chinkhuti primary schools. Thereafter, I went to Henry Henderson Institute (HHI) Secondary School. From there, I joined the Malawi Armed Forces College and thereafter moved to Air Malawi where I did my air hostess course before being moved to the Malawi Army Air Wing where I worked as a presidential hostess. After getting tired of the cabin, I went to Flight Training Services where I obtained my commercial pilot licence.
How do you juggle your career and family life?
Sometimes my schedule at work can get very busy but I try all I can to spend time with my family whenever I am free. I always make use of the free time I have with my family.