Two Ethiopian Airlines’ pilots, Captain Amsale Gualu, and Capt. Tigist Kibret are bracing all odds to make a mark in a male dominated industry such as aviation.
The duo has become the face of female aviation in Ethiopia and a point of reference to other aspiring female pilots in the country.
According to voice-online.co.uk, the International Society of Women Female Pilots estimates that of the world’s 130,000 pilots, just 4,000 – or three per cent – are women.
But two Ethiopian women – Captain Amsale Gualu and Capt. Tigist Kibret – have defied the statistics to get their wings – and hope that more young females across the world will be inspired by their success.
In December 2017, the pair made history in being part of the world’s first-ever all-female crew for a special Ethiopian Airlines flight from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa to Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria.
The 13-member crew, supervised by Captain Amsale Gualu and then-First Officer Tigist Kibret, flew 391 passengers to the Nigerian capital on Boeing B777-300 ER, in a ground-breaking journey that took four and a half hours.
As part of The Voice’s feature celebrating incredible black women, we speak to the two trailblazers and discuss their ambitions, personal lives and hopes for the future.
What are your hobbies?
I have several hobbies. I love travelling and discovering new places. I enjoy staying physically active by doing yoga and occasionally swim. I also like design and decorating in my spare time.
What advice would you give to a young girl who is aspiring for a male dominated career?
I would advise that being a girl or woman should not stop them from doing what they want. It’s not that things are difficult, but we don’t dare to try it in the first place. If something has not been done before, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done – it’s just a matter of perspective and practice.
If you were asked to name three role models in your life who would they be and why?
Firstly, my parents who were very supportive, encouraging and gave me the confidence to achieve my dream. Secondly, Muluembet Emiru was the first Ethiopian woman who flew an aeroplane in the 1930s, in a time where such things were unthinkable. And Dr Catherine Hamlin, an Australian obstetrician, and gynaecologist doctor, who came to Ethiopia in 1959 and settled. She dedicated her life to providing free fistula treatment for a poor woman suffering from early childbirth.
Why did you decide to become a pilot?
Since I was a kid, I was always curious about planes, watching them fly; I knew early on this was a profession that fascinated me.
Please share with our readers one of your greatest achievements outside of aviation?
Before joining pilot training school, I graduated from Addis Ababa University with BSc in Architecture and Urban planning and still practice it as a hobby and enjoy it.
How do you conquer your fears?
I overcame my fears by taking the time to immerse myself in the comprehensive training and understanding of the aircraft’s operation and systems. By doing so, I built up my confidence and conquered my fears.
What is your favourite song and why?
I enjoy listening to Ethiopian and international songs, especially the 90s music. I particularly like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and also enjoy more modern artists like Ed Sheeran.
What’s your favourite traditional Ethiopian dish?
Doro Wot is my favourite traditional Ethiopian food prepared from chicken with different homemade organic spices.
If you could meet a celebrity, who would it be and why?
Generally, I admire celebrities who go forward from obstacles and difficulties, but there is no specific celebrity that I would like to meet.
What has been the greatest challenge?
The biggest challenge, aside from being a working mum, is changing society’s perception toward women’s leadership capability.
Captain Tigist Kibret says she is proud and honoured to be considered a role model for others – and uses each day to learn and grow further.
Who inspires you to succeed?
My success resulted from support and love from my family and various people that I came across in my life.
Although I have had different people who have inspired me, my ultimate inspiration is my mother, who embodies strength and open-mindedness.
She never placed limitations or ideas on what I could be and who I could become.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
As a pilot, our day-to-day life is full of challenges, as I am responsible for passengers and crew’s lives on board and the operation of multi-million- dollar equipment.
I usually have to deal with rapidly changing situations, which I overcome by putting my training and skills in effect.
Besides that, my most significant career challenge has been during the pandemic, especially in the first season.
It was tough for us to fly to different parts of the world under restrictions and leave our families behind.
How do you relax in your spare time?
I am a wife and a mother, so I spend most of my spare hours having quality time with my husband and the kids. But when I am not with my family, my extra hours will be a selection of reading, a coffee get-together with friends, going to the spa or a movie.
Please share with our readers one of your greatest achievements.
Being told that I am an inspiration by my peers and those I encounter is my greatest achievement.
You are a role model for many women across the world, how do you feel about that and what would you say to them?
I feel very proud and honoured for being a role model for others. And I would say to them; it’s never late to become the person you want to be.
Stumbling should not stop you from owning what is yours.
How do you keep motivated?
Being a pilot is motivation as there’s always something new to learn. The latest updates to company training and courses keep me motivated and the varied people I encounter and learn from daily – be it my senior or junior team members.
How do you balance family life with your career?
I try to make the best of my time; as I mentioned earlier, I spend most of my spare time with my family. But if no one is at home during my days off, I spend it reading, checking emails and being up-to-date with my work.
What is your favourite food/ dish and do you cook it?
I love almost all Ethiopian food. But my favourite would be Kechin Shiro with Tikus Injera. And yes, I sometimes cook it, it’s easy to cook.
Do you listen to any inspirational music before flying?
Tell us a little about the training you had to undergo to become a pilot.
I went to one of the best aviation schools in Africa (Ethiopian Aviation Academy), which gives several training types under Aviation, Cargo, Catering, Ground services, and Maintenance and Overhaul.
After the recruitment, I joined the school for thorough theoretical, computer-based, simulator, and actual flight training and several aiding courses.
It was one of the unforgettable experiences of my career.