Interview: Liz nderi


Location: aero club, Wilson airport

What are your full names?

Elizabeth Wanjiku Nderi. I have been a professional pilot for 3 years.

What initiated your interest in flying?

I have always been fascinated by planes and travelling to different places. When I was young, I really looked forward to trips to the airport because I loved watching planes taking off and landing. I learnt how to fly before I learnt how to drive and I always wanted to work in a dynamic field.

Which schools did you attend?

I went to Forest view academy in primary which was a really good school then I went to Precious blood secondary school. After that, I obtained a PPL (private pilots license) from CMC then went to USIU for a business degree (marketing and finance) and graduated with honors.

How did school influence your decision to be a pilot?

I was taught in primary that I could be whoever I wanted to be. I knew I could be anything. Their emphasis was on education and the pursuit of excellence. I realized that I have to do my best and that is what gave me all the opportunities I have now. Since I wanted to be a pilot, I pursued that.

Where did you train to become a professional pilot?

I got my PPL from CMC then went to 43rd air school in South Africa for a CPL license and everything else.

Was the training difficult? What challenges did you face and what did you like about it? Was it more difficult as a girl?

The challenges in flying school came from being educated, black and a girl. Some instructors felt that people who pursued flying as their only education made better pilots. It also was not easy there because I am black and sometimes, this would cause discomfort. I think the training was challenging for everyone not more so just for girls. I liked the training because the school was very organized and the educational material was provided stage by stage. I specifically liked my instructor, Keith Cunningham, who was very professional. In addition to this, the school educated us on the aviation industry in general, dangerous goods and resource management which were important things to be aware about after the training.

How long did it take?

It took me a year then I came back home.

Where and how did you get your first job? Did you like it?

I got a job as an instructor at DAC aviation formerly CMC. It had its challenges but it contributed to my overall experience. I learnt a lot about people and how there are different approaches to flying.

Are you treated differently where you work because you are female?

No, I work with a great company who are very supportive. They are safety oriented and encourage teamwork as professionals and do not focus on gender.

What is your average day like?

My work is based out of Nairobi mostly. I wake up at 5 and I’m at the airport by 6. After conducting checks and filling the proper paperwork, I’m airborne by 7 and can cover up to 6 sectors a day (can be in 6 different airports in one day) depending on how busy the day is. The average is four.

On a regular day, I’m Back home by 4 or 5 though on some days there 4 hour flights which are really tiring. It may not sound like much but it is intensive because at each airport, my work involves loading and unloading of passengers and cargo plus the paperwork that comes with preparing for any flight. I work four days a week and by the time I’m done I’m ready to rest.

What makes a good day?

It always feels good to take off into sunny weather and everything runs smoothly and on time. Good days mostly mean good weather.

What do you like most about your job?

I like the challenge of the job because it offers me more experience and it helps me grow. I like flying in different conditions and learning something new daily from mentors and captains. I like the fact that nothing is ever the same.



What do you like about being a pilot?

I like the travel, the sense of freedom I feel when I’m up there. My mind is clear as if I leave all my troubles on the ground. I love the way I feel when I take off heading towards a new destination. I could add that it is a common misconception that pilots earn a lot of money immediately. This is not necessarily true. It takes time to earn that much but for now, what I get paid is just right with regard to what I do.

What is most exciting?

Flying is exciting in itself. I hope it never grows old (laughs). Taking off on a new journey always feels good.

What do you dislike most about the job? What’s difficult?

Sometimes it’s challenging to work off base (far from home). It helps to know what the goal is and to remember to enjoy the flying.

Most pilots find it very hard to get a job without experience and getting experience is difficult in and of itself. The flying community is small so networking is extremely valuable. Some airlines simply do not employ women.

The challenges for many female pilots is finding a good man and starting a family. I deal with this by talking to my mentors (both male and female pilots with years of experience for guidance) and I have fellow female pilot with whom I share my experiences so that we grow together.
What about your colleagues, rules, pre flight procedures, family life? Does being a lady pilot interfere with your social life?

My Mum has been very supportive, she has never doubted me. I also have a very supportive brother and sisters. They all learnt aviation terms so that they could understand me. My family has given me a lot of financial and emotional support. I’m so thankful for them and how they have always been and are still there.
I have not been anything but a female pilot so this is all I know. Flying procedures involve a lot of rules and paperwork but its part of the job. My social life has its challenges but every career has its cons.



What are your long-term hopes and plans? Marriage, kids, retirement? Another career?

I would love to fly and grow in this career for as long as I can. I would like to make a change in the industry in my own little way. I would like to do my part in growing the Kenyan industry.

With regard to marriage and a family, I hope and pray that one day in the future all this happens but I have no plans for certain. If I had it my way I would fly to the end, I don’t want to retire.

What would you say to a young schoolgirl who wants to follow in your footsteps?

I would tell them that they need to be dedicated, hardworking and mentally prepared. I would say that it pays to be patient and good grades to get some opportunities. It works out eventually, but it’s a journey. It’s more about the work than the gender. I look forward to more female colleagues in the industry. Anything that is worth it takes time and dedication.

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1 Response

  1. Rose Wanjiku says:

    Its interesting to hear of another PBerian in aviation. Way to go. Keep flying and inspiring those that come after you. cheers