Elizabeth Mapatle’s love for aviation started as a little girl when her father would take her and her siblings to the then Jan Smuts Airport to watch planes take off and land. “It was amazing to watch these magnificent machines take to the sky and what was even more mind-blowing and exciting was knowing that there were real people flying them. That’s where the seed was planted for me,” recalls Mapatle. Now at age 39, Elizabeth has completed her private pilot license and is well on the way to becoming a commercial pilot.
According to 2020 figures published by A3 Flight School in South Africa, only 5% of airline pilots and 3% of airline CEOs are female. “Flight decks are still dominated by males, even with private pilot license acquisitions – women are few and far between,” adds Mapatle. With 11 years in the aviation industry, Mapatle believes there is a lot more room for women and girls to get excited about flying. As a flight attendant at LIFT airline, Mapatle balances getting in her flight hours with working as a cabin crew on LIFT’s domestic flights between Johannesburg to Cape Town.
Asked how the experience has been, Mapatle is clear that flying planes requires dedication. “Since I work, I need to create time, I currently have 100 hours left until I complete my commercial license.” Another consideration is the costs that go with it. However, if you can manage the costs and time needed then not even the sky’s the limit says Mapatle.
“Flying offers me an escape. When I am up there, I forget about all my problems – it’s really therapeutic,” she says. After completing her commercial license qualification, Mapatle would like to study further and pursue her Airline transport license so that she can one day become a captain.” There are several opportunities when looking to enter the aviation industry and unlike previous misconceptions, you don’t have to have Maths and Science if you are able to pay for your lessons without a scholarship,” she adds.
Mapatle studied travel and tourism and when she completed this qualification, she became a flight attendant and did her research to find a reputable flight school to pursue her dream. “I went to Rand Airport in Germiston. Finding the finances was challenging but I decided never to take no for an answer, and pursued my dream to fly.” Mapatle encourages other young girls and women who have the flight bug – to go for it. Her advice is to disregard some of the negative comments you’re likely to hear from some who don’t think women are capable of flying. “Don’t take it personally or seriously, just go for what you want,” she says. Finding support from other female pilot students and colleagues has been very beneficial to her too. “I have a group of women who offer me that support. These are mothers and other working women who are pursuing similar goals and I too am always open to offer advice to other women looking to enter the aviation sector,“ she says.
Her dreams for the future include flying commercially – whether airlines or private jets and freelancing as a drone pilot too. That’s not all, Mapatle also plans to pursue her LLB since law is another passion and possibly merge the two by pursuing an aviation law degree.