Sibongile Sambo, a daring South African woman who was turned down for a flight attendant position by South African Airways after an interview, has decided to launch her own airline.
Sambo was not hired as a flight attendant because she did not meet the position’s minimum height requirement.
But for the South African businesswoman, increasing the number of female pilots in the skies is more than just a job; it’s a passion.
So she decided to start her own business, for which she had to sell her car and use her mother’s pension money.
She is currently the CEO of SRS Aviation, Africa’s first female aviation company.
Sambo was given her first flight for the South African government in 2004.
Since then, SRS Aviation has expanded to offer personalised services such as helicopter, tourist, and luxury flights to destinations all over the world. The Johannesburg-based crew has flown to the United States and Germany.
“It could be a tourist charter for $1,000 or it could be a head of state travelling on a VIP aircraft to the United States, which could be about $200,000,” the entrepreneur told CNN.
The company may be flying high right now, but it has seen better days. Breaking into this male-dominated industry and “learning the language” proved difficult for Sambo.
Despite the challenges, SRS Aviation received an Air Operating Certificate from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), allowing it to conduct commercial flying operations, and has assisted three women in obtaining their private pilot licences. They are now working full-time.
MCC Aviation, a well-known player in the South African aviation industry, has also joined forces with the company. The agreement provides Sambo with access to an aircraft fleet as well as technical and operational support.
“I’m where I am today because someone believed in me,” she explains. “This is my chance to invest in other people.”
Making progress in Africa
Ethiopia Airlines launched its first flight with an entirely female crew last year in an effort to encourage more African women to pursue careers in aviation. Sambo hopes that more South African women will join the effort and achieve success as jet pilots.
Her company’s current expansion plans include expanding SRS Aviation helicopter services and operations across the African continent.
“What I’m most proud of about our company is that we were able to break into a male-dominated industry,” she adds. “African aviation is expanding. We will expand in tandem with Africa’s growth.”