When Sibongile Sambo, a 42-year old woman from South Africa, was told by South African Airways that she did not qualify for a flight attendant position because she did not meet their minimum height requirement, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
She became an entrepreneur, and started her very own airline called SRS Aviation, and until this day, her company is the only Black woman-owned and operated aviation company in Africa.
Starting an airline is not an easy or cheap thing to do, but despite this, she was still able to get it off the ground.
First, she formed her company and gave it the name of SRS Aviation. Then, she bid and won a contract for cargo transport issued by the South African government and formed a partnership with MCC Aviation – a South African-based fixed & rotor wing charter operator. Finally, she sold her car and cashed out her mother’s pension to help her obtain an Air Operating Certificate from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It wasn’t an easy process, but she was able to raise the needed capital and make it work!
Now, Sibongile’s company offers their clients professional and personalized flight options to destinations in Africa and around the world. Their services include VIP charters, tourist charters, cargo charters, game count & capture, and helicopter services. Her customers pay anywhere from $1,000 USD to $200,000 USD per flight.
Sibongile’s vision is to be the number one choice in affordable air service solutions for individuals and businesses, locally and worldwide, by providing an unparalleled air service. She also aims to uphold the highest safety standards.
When it comes to giving back to her local community, she is also very passionate about helping young people by sharing her knowledge and expertise. During a recent interview with CNN, she commented, “I’m where I am today because somebody invested in me. It’s my opportunity now to invest in other people.”
Breaking into a male dominated industry
The business may be high-flying now, but it has seen more turbulent days. For Sibongile, breaking into this male-dominated industry and “getting to learn the language” proved challenging.
Despite the difficulties, SRS Aviation received an Air Operating Certificate by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), allowing it to operate commercial flying activities, and has helped three women get their private pilot licenses. They are now employed full-time.
“I’m where I am today because somebody invested in me,” she says. “It’s my opportunity now to invest in other people.”
Making strides in Africa
Last year, Ethiopia Airlines dispatched its first flight run by an entirely female crew in a bid to encourage more African women into aviation. Sibongile wants more South African women to join the effort and make it big as jet pilots.
Current growth plans for Sibongile Sambo’s company include expanding SRS Aviation helicopter services and its operations across the African continent.
“What I’m proud of about our company is that we have managed to penetrate the male dominated industry,” she adds. “Aviation is growing in Africa. We are going to grow with the growth in Africa.”
Other African women also making strides, last year BW reported that South African businesswoman, Sizakele Petunia Mzimela emerged as the first black woman to own an airline after her company, Fly Blu Crane kicked off operations at the OR Tambo International Airport in September 1, 2015. Mzimela is also the first woman appointed to the International Air Transport Association’s Board of Directors in 67 years.
For more details about SRS Aviation, visit www.srsaviation.co.za
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show. AJ is a Father, Brother, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Hip-Hop Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.