(Series 1, Episode 4b)

by Egi Gaisie

This continues last week’s chat with Audrey Swatson, who at the age of 19 years, ‘earned her wings’ after she pursued her passion for aviation. 

HOST: Tell us about your career journey as a Pilot. Let’s begin with the prerequisites and what was involved in the training. 

GUEST:  To become a pilot I would say started from the time I was entertaining the thought of becoming one. It took communication between my noble parents and myself to understand who I was as a child, what I was interested in and who I thought I would be in future. It really meant a lot to them that we discuss what I wanted to be.  

HOST: So the journey started from that point; entertaining the thought and talking with your parents. 

GUESTYes. My parents played their role, saving up from the time I expressed that desire until I started my flight training. I went through basic school. I observed that when it got to subjects about Ghana, Africa, and different places, I could relate them to aviation.  

At Senior High School I studied Science only because I was interested in it. I could have done visual arts, general arts or any other course available. Science was my interest not because I wanted to become a pilot. I offered elective mathematics, elective chemistry, geography and physics. I did the WASSCE local syllabus because it was going to take me three years (shorter time) to finish it. I didn’t opt for the O’ or A’ level because it’s was going to take me four years to complete before going to flight school. 

To become a pilot, you have to be at least 15 years, pass an aviation medical test, and you have to have the money for flight training. (These three areas AGE, HEALTH STATUS and FINANCE/MONEY) 

I found out there is no place in Ghana to have flight training. So Ghana wasn’t the place to nurture my dream.  

I went to South Africa (SA) for my training. I had to do an aviation medical test. You need to past this test to get a student pilot license to start flying. 

School in the beginning was quite slow, in the middle there were lots of highs and lows; long days and late nights full of studying and preparing for written exams or flights. That’s what had become my world. Saturdays and Sundays would be examination time or flight training time. Flight training gave me an incredible experience! 

When you have the student pilot license, you carry out certain exercises and when you are able to take off and land on your own, then you go solo and that is when you earn your wings. Thereafter, you carry out more exercises which are more challenging. 

During the process you get your private pilot license. Thereafter, if you want to be able to fly at night, you will do your night rating and follow through with your commercial pilot license.  

Having gone through all of that you want to be able to work now. So, I came back home, to Ghana, in search for a job.  

Having a job now, flying, it has been quite different and challenging. In flight school I was taught to fly alone but here I have to make some adjustments to fly with somebody (a co-pilot).  

My flight career up until now, I would say has seen a lot of growth. There were things I couldn’t do in the beginning but I can easily do them now without hesitation

HOST: Quite a thrilling career start. By the way are female pilots also referred to as ‘pilots’? 

GUESTYes they are. Some want to differentiate and refer to them as aviatrix but, a pilot is a pilot. The aircraft does not know who is behind the controls. Male or female, is called a pilot. 

HOST: You faced challenges while pursuing the course, which caused you to almost give up the dream of becoming a pilot. Could you share those challenges? 

GUESTI observed the educational system required a steady timetable and specific periods. The teaching and learning system was a challenge as well. Also, I had to rewrite certain course papers a few times sometimes five, six or seven times not because I didn’t prepare, but as you know, things happen. I also had to face discrimination based on age. I would blame that on the African culture which considers that once you are older you are right and the younger one is wrong. 

The weather in SA was another challenge. In Ghana, its hot all year, even in the raining season; so getting accustomed to the cold weather there, needed some adjustments. 

HOST:  Interactions with people can fuel our passion, however, if parents, coaches, teachers push too hard that could end one’s passion, is this true?  

GUESTYes. I totally agree with you. Sometimes when you are pushed hard to achieve the best performance, it could break the person. People are like eggs. You have to hold them well enough so they do not fall. On the other hand, holding them too hard could break them. We have to understand that people are stories, and stories have to be narrated. Out of the stories, we get inspiration and this is what drives us. Mentors or parents have to make room for us to operate within our own time and space while keeping an eye on us and trusting our abilities. If it does not work the first time, we can always try again. 

HOST: Passion is something that evolves; it takes interest to ignite it (passion). How does this statement apply to you? 

GUEST: Passion is a commanding emotion. Like other emotions, it changes over time. It only takes interest to ignite it. You can hold onto one interest and discover passion for it later. For me at this point in my flight career, what moves me is knowing that I represent my progenitors and other females who see me as the light house.   

HOST: The process to discover a passion I think takes time, education and experimentation. It also takes the support of people around us. Would you apply this to yourself? 

GUESTVery much. I did not do this on my own. A big thank you to God and then to my parents who had the freewill to allow me to be who I want to be. It really takes time. You need to research and research very well. Do not rely wholly on the internet. Ask around. Ask the right people too. As for the internet, it channels you to see a certain perspective that could be smaller than your big one. My parents had to experiment before sending me out there on my own. They had to see for themselves and then trust that I would make them proud. For the support, it comes in different ways. Yet, it is one that stood out; encouragement. At a certain point, I felt like maybe what they say is true;”Women cannot do this or that”. But at that point, people who support me; especially my parents would encourage and remind me that it wasn’t about me anymore. It was about the people who will be looking up to me when I am done; creating a path for the younger generations to come.  

HOST: What converted your interest into passion? 

GUESTWhat converted my interest into passion would be starting the journey. At first i was just interested in it. I thought my interest could carry me through until I started to grow in my passion. Interest is fleeting: in that it changes.one moment you want it. Another moment, you just don’t want it again. But passion always gives you a reason when you are in the dark times, memories of good times to pull through and the joy in your heart when you were able to triumph 

Meeting people, seeing black girls from Africa and people from different countries; I didn’t see anyone from my country so I thought I could do it to represent my country.  

HOST: That’s patriotic. Thank you. What myths have you discovered in relation to working as a pilot?

GUESTThere are many of them and I keep hearing new ones every now and then from people I interact with on social media or in person. Well where I’m from in Ghana, growing up they say it’s just a fantasy to become a pilot. It is more like spotting a unicorn. You never become one or you never become a pilot.  

Another myth is that it is for white people. Also you have to be very tall. 

Another is you have to be a man. That is absolute rubbish! The other myth is that you get to travel to many different countries. Yes, some pilots get to do that but mainly for work and not sightseeing. Not all pilots get to enjoy such luxury. You land at the airport and you go straight to your hotel room and not to the mainland. 

 One other myth is that you have to be excellent in academics. Yes, flight training demands high performance. But it’s not about 8As or 8ones. The academic system in Ghana is channeled to a generalized academic performance scheme. In that, whether you like it or not you would have to do it. Imagine judging an elephant to swim in the ocean and then a fish to survive on land. Thats tough. How long will the fish survive on land and the elephant in the sea? That’s the educational system Ghana gives to us as students. So if somebody gets eight A’s that’s good. If another person gets six C’s that’s also good. 

Another myth is that you can’t raise a family. There are many pilots who don’t only have beautiful families but lasting families. People have the idea that if you are a pilot you can’t raise a family especially as a women. How are you going to raise babies and still be flying? If only people could expand their eyes into the territories of a woman in aviation especially as a pilot! 

HOST: Sum up yourself in one word. 

GUEST: Sum up myself in one word? Hmmm!  I would say a simple-go getter. I’m a very simple person, and I am a go-getter. If I want it, I get it. No matter what it is. If I want it, I get it no matter how long it takes. If I want something, I get it. 

HOST: Audrey, thank you so much. 

So the one word to sum up our youngest female pilot is ‘GO-GETTER’ and she has driven her interest into passion! 

PS: Passion Air, a local airline company, made history by flying with an all-female crew in Ghana on Saturday, February 20, 2021. See women making strides in aviation!

The Accra-Tamale flight was successful on Saturday, February 20, 2021. The firm said Flight OP 178 was “entirely ‘womanned’ by women from the flight deck to the cabin.” 

In a statement, Passion Air said it hopes “this historic moment empowers and inspires women all over the world”. 

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