June 26, 2020, will forever be etched on 18-year-old Omega Ngowi’s memory. This was the day when her longtime dream to fly a plane came true after she flew her first solo flight.
“It was the most memorable moment of my life. It was indeed a dream come true. It is not easy to describe how I felt at that moment,” says the soft-spoken girl, who is the last born in a family of three children.
About a fortnight ago, Omega made her final solo trip from Dar es Salaam to Tanga, Zanzibar and back to complete the critical stage leading to her Private Pilot licensing.
The young pilot finds flying amazing for many reasons. The beauty one can see only from above as well as being able to visit amazing places. Omega finds satisfaction in being in charge of the plane and the liberation of holding the controls.
Ever since she was a little girl, Omega who was born in Norway on July 2, 2002, dreamed of becoming a pilot. She had been used to flying and always told her parents she wanted to become a pilot.
Her father, renowned Mzumbe University Economics professor, Honest Ngowi, says his family used to travel by air every time they went on vacation because his children were fond of flying. They would fly every time they went to Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro and Mtwara.
“Fortunately in almost all the trips from 2008, we would meet Precision Air’s late captain Dominic Bomani, with whom we used to take photos. This is among the things that inspired her,” says the proud father.
Omega’s mother, Bahati Matimba, who is a lawyer tells Woman that on one trip to Zanzibar, when Omega was only six, she had the opportunity to enter the cockpit after her mother told the late Captain Bomani about her daughter’s desire to become a pilot.
“The late pilot took her to the cockpit after we landed in Zanzibar,” says Bahati. This must have fueled the then nursery student’s ambition to one day fly an aircraft.
Omega says the journey in the male-dominated profession was not an easy one. Her friends used to discourage her every time she told them about her interest to become a pilot.
“My schoolmates at Alpha Secondary School used to say that women can’t fly planes because they thought it was only meant for men.”
Omega was not deterred and never at any time thought of ditching her passion.
“This made me even more determined to follow my dream and prove to them that women too can make it.”
Her mother concurs that getting where her daughter is today was no walk in the park. She says at times friends they shared with the idea about their daughter’s dream discouraged them too. Since they were confident their daughter had made the right choice, they just let her follow her heart.
They went to Julius Nyerere International Airport’s Terminal One to inquire about the requirements to enrol for flying lessons. They met Captain Anna Laroya, who flies Tanzania National Parks’ aircrafts, who gave them the guidelines, before taking them to Mosswood college.
“She was so good to us and I thank her for her kindness,” says Mrs Ngowi.
Omega started her flying lessons in February 2019, a few months after completing her O-Levels. Her plan was to go to aviation school directly after Form Four but her parents wanted her to do her A-Levels first. They reasoned with her on the importance of being an educated pilot and at the end of the day, they all agreed that she would do both.
“When she joined Feza, we had to ask for permission so she could be leaving school every Friday evening to attend flying lessons and return to school on Monday,” says Prof Ngowi.
She was the only female and the youngest in a class of seven students. This did not make her feel inferior.
“When you are the only female in a male-dominated profession, all eyes are on you but this never disturbed me,” says Omega. However, when practical training kicked off in April last year, she found herself at crossroads. She wondered whether to continue with high school studies or not. It was at this time when she was supposed to join Feza for her Economics, Geography and Mathematics (EGM) studies.
After careful consideration and encouragement from her parents, Omega decided to continue with both. She would do her flying practical training on Saturdays and Sundays and continue with her advanced secondary school education on weekdays. Her aviation school classmates did the practicals the whole week.
While it took her colleagues a year to complete training, Omega did so after 18 months given that she was learning part-time. Omega says she was always busy and barely had time to rest.
“Every Saturday and Sunday, I would wake up at 4 am and set off for the airport at 5 am.” She was supposed to be at the airport at 6 am, ready for takeoff.
Omega’s completion of private pilot training is just the beginning. To get a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) she has to sit the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority exam. She plans to write the exam after completing Form Six next year. The cost for this is $1,000 (about Sh2.3 million).
“I want to concentrate on my studies for now,” she says.
After the PPL exam, she plans to pursue a one-year Commercial Pilot Training. The training, whose cost is between $50,000 (about Sh115 million) and $65,000 (Sh149.5 million), will enable her to secure the Commercial Pilot License (CPL) for her to be able to fly passenger flights.
Her first choice for this training is South Africa-based Johannesburg Flight School followed by Kenya’s Nairobi Flight School. Omega is grateful to her parents who gave her their full support to pursue her dream. They had to sacrifice a lot both financially and morally.
“Regardless of my gender, my parents taught me that I wasn’t any different from men and that I could do anything I wanted as long as I enjoyed doing it.” She adds: “It isn’t that my parents are that rich but they had to use the little resources they had to support me so that I could fulfill my dream.”
Most women entering traditionally male-dominated professions in the world encounter obstacles simply because of their gender. Omega says she hasn’t experienced this.
Like her husband, Omega’s mother, Bahati, is very proud of her daughter’s achievement. She says her daughter has all it takes to realise her dream.
“She is determined and believes in her dreams,” Bahati proudly says, while glorifying God for the gift of her child.
“I am proud of her because she has fulfilled her childhood ambition.”
Bahati says, apart from flying planes, Omega, is very good at drawing. She describes her daughter as being less talkative and that she only speaks when necessary.
Feza Girls Headmistress, Zakia Irembe, says it’s not easy to tell that Omega is a pilot since she keeps a low profile. She describes Omega as a bright, disciplined, focused and cool student.
“It is not an easy task for a secondary school student to fly an aircraft. What she has done justifies her brightness.”
As for her friends who used to think she could not become a pilot since she is a girl, Omega is happy that they are now happy and proud of her. She has been receiving many congratulatory messages from them.
“They are now on my side. They have been encouraging me to keep going. I feel even happier to see that others have been inspired as they are inquiring on the procedure to follow to become a pilot.”
Prof Ngowi credits his daughter’s success to determination and hard work. He says she would not have made it were it not for her determination.
“She is very focused. She can wake up at 3am and if you advise her to take some rest, she refuses on the ground that she is preparing a flight plan.” Five years from now, Omega sees herself working with Air Tanzania Company Limited or any other major airlines.
A piece of advice from civil aviation boss
Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority director general, Mr Hamza Johari has a word of advice for the young pilot.
Mr Johari advises Omega to pursue a university degree alongside her flying studies after Form Six, saying this will add value to her profession, especially considering that she will not fly forever.
He says a good education level, would help her change careers after getting tired of flying.
“Educated pilots are the future CEOs in the aviation industry,” says Mr Johari, adding: “How can you be a CEO of an airline if you are just a Form Six leaver?”
What it takes to get there
According to Mr Johari, the Private Pilot Licence (PPL) is issued to a person aged 17 and above.
This means Omega already qualifies for that agewise and can therefore sit the exam after completing A-Level studies, as per her plans. To qualify, she also needs to have flown at least 40 hours and about 270 km cross country, among others.
To obtain a Commercial Pilot License (CPL), she needs to have flown a distance of 540km and have a total of 200 flight hours, according to Mr Johari. Omega needs to also pass the exam for this level.
Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL), enables a pilot to fly big aircrafts like the Dreamliner and Boeing 777.