According to official statistics released in 2019, out of 664, 565 active pilots in the world, only 52, 740 were women.
It is against this male-dominated backdrop that Kaone Kamanakao has gone all out to encourage young girls to consider a career in aviation.
The impressive 31-year-old is a qualified commercial pilot.
The Motopi native plays a leading role in NGOs Girls Fly Programme in Africa and Women in Aviation International Botswana, of which she is the President.
Through these organisations, Kamanakao has been sensitizing and coaching schoolgirls on the aviation industry, even organising scholarships for successful ones.
In this interview, the passionate pilot talks to FRANCINAH BAAITSE about the challenges, opportunities, and achievements in this career, which like many other industries, has been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
I understand you are Ground Training Manager at Wilderness Safaris. Please tell me about your experiences as a woman in the aviation field?
I was the Ground Training Manager but left as of February because of the effects of Covid-19 on the company. My experience with aviation has been that it is a challenging yet equally rewarding industry.
So what do you do for a living at the moment?
I am running my own aviation firm that deals with technical advisory as well as asset management.
What is the name of your company and how is it doing in the market?
I have been working as an independent consultant for some time. We are finalising registration with new partners but business has been slow because of Covid-19. I am currently the Managing Director of the Girls Fly Programme in Africa and I sit as President of Women in Aviation International Botswana.
Tell us more about the Girls Fly Programme and Botswana’s response to it?
Basically, the NGO has been set up for the advancement of girls and women in the aviation industry.
We do this through educational programmes such as Girls in Aviation International Day hosted annually by Women in Aviation International as well as mentoring.
We actively try to find members scholarships to advance this mission.
The programme includes the use of design thinking, technology and innovation to shape, empower, enable and support the next generation of women who are becoming problem solvers in the aviation and space industry in Africa.
So far, how many Batswana girls have you or the NGO helped to get into the aviation field?
We’ve helped over 500 in the last four years. Our primary concern is building interest and giving access to educational information around Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Maths. Girls Fly Programme in Africa is based in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, and Cameroon. The idea is to grow into every African country.
Why a special interest in girls, what about the boy child?
Our activities do make provision for us to help the boy child.
However, our primary focus is the girl child for two reasons: one, women make up less than 20 percent of the workforce in aviation globally, and secondly, and secondly less than two percent are from minority groups!
Therefore, as part of a global poverty eradication plan, we would like to attract more young women into the aviation field to pursue it as a career.
But tell me, over the years there has been a concerted effort to encourage girls and women to get into the cockpit, so why are female pilots still so rare?
The efforts are there but more women and girls need to be reached globally, especially those in remote areas.
More information about accessibility within the sector must be shared with women and girls.
As a girl child yourself, what drove you into pursuing a career in aviation?
I have always had a fascination for airplanes.
Is there any other career you would have pursued if you did not make it to aviation class?
I would have become an actuary. However, I will be pursuing a degree that encompasses both aviation and finances.
You must be excellent at calculations, was Mathematics your favourite subject at school?
You could say so, I enjoyed the subject!
What other subjects did you enjoy?
English, Economics, and Accounting.
That must bring back some fond childhood memories. Regale us with a lasting memory from when you were growing up?
Okay, so after the holidays a very good friend of mine, Leungo Pitse said he had traveled to the United Kingdom.
He told a story of opening a window in flight and packing clouds in a plastic bag and they tasted like cotton candyfloss (laughing).
(Laughs) And did you believe him?
I was fascinated, I really felt I had to experience it for myself.
I can imagine. That must have encouraged you to want to fly even more! So how many different types of airplanes have you flown and how did you feel the very first time you took to the skies on your own?
I have flown about five different types of planes.
My first solo flight was incredibly liberating.
I felt calm and at ease.
At that point, I was also very aware that I could do anything I set my mind to do.
What aircraft was that?
It was a Cessna 172.
Has being a lady pilot changed your life in anyway?
Aviation is a very strict discipline.
It has helped me be very systematic and strategic even in my daily life.
It has also helped me become more kind and compassionate when I see how many young people would like to have the same opportunities I was given.
This is why I volunteer.
Generally, what are common challenges faced by women in the aviation industry?
The greatest challenge is the lack of representation.
Traditionally, it has been a male-dominated industry.
Again the training courses can be quite expensive so accessing financing for studies is also a challenge for women and girls.
Were you ever discouraged from pursuing your dream of becoming a pilot – if yes, what did you do to stand your ground?
Yes, I have been discouraged, especially by male instructors that judged my abilities on how I looked.
I let my performance and professionalism speak for me.
How did your parents feel when you told them you want to be a pilot?
My mum was initially against it because she felt it was dangerous but she eventually gave up and she has been nothing but supportive.
I would not be where I am without my family’s loving support.
And are you a family woman yourself; married with children?
I am a family woman; I come from a line of strong independent women.
I am not married yet, however, I do have two sons, aged four and three.
With so much on your hands, how do you balance parenting, running a business, volunteering, and leading NGOs?
It’s not easy, but I am fortunate because I have lots of help from my family and I rest when I need to.
What do you do for leisure?
I enjoy reading and writing.
I also enjoy listening to different types of music.
Lastly, Thank God It’s Friday, what are you up to this weekend?
I will be cooking at a small family gathering this Sunday.
We will be having tlhogo (cow head) and hooves with my cousins and aunts.