Flying the Malawi flag high

In September 1967, the now liquidated Air Malawi was established following the dissolution of the Central African Airways at the end of the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The local aviation sector has seen three women rise to the high post of captain. Captain Yolanda Ndala-Kaunda is the most recent one to rise to the high office while Felistas Matengo-Mkandawire filled the shoes before her. Vietnam-based Veronica Foy was the first female captain. Every Woman recently had a chat with Foy.

Foy (C) with colleagues at Vietnam Airlines
Foy (C) with colleagues at Vietnam Airlines

Now captain for Vietnam Airlines, the first Malawian female pilot and captain for Air Malawi (now liquidated), Veronica Foy admits that a career in the aviation industry is not all glamour but requires hard work and sacrifice.

“It is not a 9 to 5 job and the study never ends. If you are willing to sacrifice and aviation is truly a passion, then you will have no regrets. Pilots have to go through stringent medicals and checks every six months so if you can cope with that, plus lack of routine and sleep, then it is an office with the best view in the world,” she says.

Her journey into the aviation sector dates back to the 1990s when she completed her private pilot studies in South Africa. She had three jobs in that country, at the same time studying for her private pilot’s license.

She then came back to Malawi and hounded late Captain Wisdom Mchungula (then chief pilot of liquidated Air Malawi), to give her a job.

Says Foy: “I worked part time as a pilot for Mr. Bizzarro [owner of Club Makokola], whilst visiting Captain Mchungula every day. I think he eventually got fed up with me and gave me a job as a first officer on the HS 748. I started as a second officer on the HS 748 in 1992. I then moved to the ATR 72 as first officer, then B 737 and back to the Dornier 228 as captain before moving again to ATR 42 as captain.

She points out that the years she

served as a pilot at the liquidated national flag carrier were her best years in aviation. The foundation given by her instructors in Air Malawi, she says, is second to none.

The training she received was tough but fair and of the highest quality, according to her. She confesses that she still uses many techniques and teaching methods that she got then.

“Captain Mchungula was like my father and mentor. So was Captain Mkandawire. These are pilots of the highest caliber! They made me what I am today and I shall always be grateful to them for their tough training and guidance,” says the captain.

Born at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (Qech) in Blantyre, on January 17, 1969 to a Malawian father and British mother, Foy went to Saint Andrews primary and secondary schools in the same city. She is one of three sisters, with an older sister Bertha and a younger one, Joanne.

Her parents were both in business; her father running an agricultural equipment business and had a company called Tratsel, while the mother also ran her own shop in Limbe.

The father passed away before she completed her A levels and her mother had to pull her out from school as she could no longer afford the school fees. Lucky for her, though, her headmaster stepped in and paid the fees for her last year and she completed the A levels.

“I shall always be indebted to my mother and my headmaster for the sacrifices they made for my education. I completed my master’s degree in aviation management in 2005 after years of study and work as I could not afford to obtain higher education prior to that,” she says.

It would appear that flying had been Veronica’s dream since she was a very little girl. She says her mother tells her that from the time she was very small, she would tell her she wanted to fly.

“She thought I wanted to be a flight attendant but I adamantly refused and told her I wanted to ‘drive’ the aeroplanes!!!! Besides that, my father took me on a small aircraft from a young age and my passion for being in the air just continued to grow,” says the 47 year old.

Having noticed the poor quality of training provided to pilots, Foy partnered Mladen Zunic to start teaching aviation English and then they moved in to training pilots to specifically fly the airbus aircraft.

The school, Greendot Aviation has been in operation for over four years now; and June this year marks the school’s second anniversary as an approved training organization in Europe.

Among others, her career highlights include being a presidential pilot for former president Bakili Muluzi; being the first female pilot and captain in Air Malawi; making first female captain in TransAsia Airways and being the first female pilot and captain at Vietnam Airlines where she works.

“I have had many passengers refuse to fly with me based on my gender and then afterwards have written to my company and my boss to say their judgement was wrong and they have had the best flight ever. I am extremely proud of my company with my partner, Mladen Zunic and being able to fly wide body jets, an instructor and examiner,” says Foy.

Born Veronica Trataris, she was once married to a Mauritian Patrick Foy; but they later got divorced. They never had children.

“I have no children, it is part of the sacrifice of being a pilot, and now too old to even think about it!” says Foy who is expected to marry her partner, Croatian Mladen Zunic this year.

Veronica says there are few other Malawians in aviation that would be here ‘yesterday’ to set up aviation if they had support from the government with regards to legislation and stability.

“I would love to be back home and flying in Malawi but the aviation sector is too unstable. This is a great shame as the opportunities are there. I even looked at opening my school in Malawi as I have access to land and ability to bring simulators there. However, our investor was reluctant as the economy is unstable and the infrastructure cannot support it. This saddens me tremendously because I would love to have my training school in Malawi and be back home to develop aviation further,” says Foy. n

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