Ayla Savasci, 20, is one of the best students at West Rift Aviation in Nairobi, an aviation school making waves in the industry [Courtesy, files, Standard]

Ayla Savasci, 20, is one of the best students at West Rift Aviation in Nairobi, an aviation school making waves in the industry with its groundbreaking programme focused on diversity and inclusion.

“I knew I wanted to be in aviation, but because of the stereotypes, I always wanted to be a flight attendant. My aunt drove out that notion by motivating me to know I am intelligent and I can push through any barrier,” says Ayla.

“As a girl, you receive snide comments from people outside of the aviation industry. They make what would sound like a positive comment, but it’s negative like, ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t want to be a cabin crew - you have the face for it...’

As a woman, I support females in the aviation industry be it engineers, flight attendants, pilots, tower controllers or dispatchers. No role should be looked at as lesser than the other. In the aviation industry, women are criticised more than their male counterparts. When you are assertive, when you put your foot down you are called bossy,” says Ayla.

According to a Federal Aviation Authority research study released this year, female pilots make up less than 10 per cent of the practising pilots in flying space. That means there are around 900,000 male pilots in comparison with 60,000 likely female pilots in the world. About 59,000 of these live in the US. There are about 30 female pilots in Kenya.

Breaking the glass ceiling in what has been a male-dominated industry, Ayla is among eight other girls in a single aviation unit studying the craft. All in their early 20s, the girls are trailblazers in their West Rift Aviation Institute’s space leading the call for diversity and inclusivity in the aviation sector. In this, they are defying stereotypes associated with women and the aviation industry, a move that is also meant to inspire more girls into the lucrative career.

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This is home to Aysha Morowa, the first flight instructor and female private pilot license holder from Tana River. 

Maureen Kibet says she appreciates the opportunity to pursue aviation. “It is a dream come true I have fit well in a male-dominated career. My late father was a pilot and I feel like in this journey, I am walking in his footsteps and that makes me happy. I just finished with my private pilot license and I am going through my flight dispatchers’ license. I want to have as many opportunities as I can in this career. I am a student pilot and a flight dispatcher and later I want to do safety. I want to, one day command the Boeing 737, which is my dream aircraft,” she says.

 Breaking the glass ceiling in what has been a male-dominated industry [Courtesy, files Standard]

Rose Koech says that just like her, many young girls are not confident about becoming pilots due to the notion that has been created over the years that ‘space belongs to men’. She says there should be more empowerment and mentorship for girls wishing to undertake male-dominated careers.

“I wasn’t as confident when I made the first step of enrolling as a pilot student. It was our director, Captain Mark Koross, who helped me overcome my fears by assuring me that flying is a career that knows no gender. Now, having achieved much in this field, I want to go back to my community to mentor other girls and make them realise they can also realise their dreams,” says Rose.

 There are about 30 female pilots in Kenya [Courtesy, files, Standard]

When Esther Wambui enrolled to train as a pilot five years ago, little did she know she would have the opportunity to become a teacher as well as a ground instructor.

I didn’t realise I would have the opportunity to become a teacher besides being a pilot as is the case now. I feel empowered to be allowed to be an instructor because it allows me to empower other people. I have chosen to learn as much as I can along the way. I started flying as a pilot as soon as I got my private flying license and last year I started teaching incoming students, which is a milestone,” says Esther.

These young female pilots believe that in a world where diversity fosters progress and innovation, their training stands at the forefront of change, proving that a diverse and inclusive environment is not just an aspiration, but a catalyst for success in the aviation industry. 

For Martha Cheyech, from Pokot, flying has been an empowerment tool that has seen her rise above societal norms and commonly limiting traditional norms.

“I just got my private license. Being in aviation is like rediscovering myself. Five years ago I could see myself married, and if I was to go by the script many girls in my community follow that would likely have been the case. I have so many friends, and age mates, who are now married and happy with children. Not that it’s bad but I feel like there is more to life than being someone’s wife and mother. It is for this reason that we are here proving that we are the generation bringing change in the aviation sector as well as in our communities,” says Martha, sentiments that are echoed by Serene Masudi.

“When people from diverse backgrounds come together, new perspectives emerge, leading to innovation and growth,” says Captain Mark Koros.