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Who is Neema Swai? Tanzanian Pilot Who Just Made History Flying The First Cargo-only Aircraft in Africa

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Tanzanians were overjoyed earlier this month when the country’s first cargo plane arrived.The freighter plane, which landed at Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA), was greeted by members of the aviation industry, government officials, and residents led by Tanzania President Samia Suluhu Hassan. The Lake Tanganyika aircraft, with a carrying capacity of 54 tonnes, was piloted by three pilots led by Captain Neema Swai.

Swai is one of Air Tanzania Company Limited’s (ATCL) ten female pilots, and she made history that day by being the first Tanzanian pilot to fly a Boeing 767-300. “I was very excited and honoured to be trusted by ATCL’s managing director, Engineer Ladislaus Matindi, to fly Boeing 767-300F, the first cargo-only aircraft in Africa,” Swai, who flew Tanzania’s first cargo plane from the United States to JNIA, told The Citizen.

According to her, the Boeing 767-300F is Africa’s first cargo-only airplane. In other words, it is the first airline in Africa to operate a directly constructed freighter Boeing 767. She noted that other cargo planes in Africa were converted into passenger jets.

The captain, who is living her first goal, believes that being assigned to fly the Boeing 767-300F brings her closer to her second desire of flying a considerably larger aircraft (Boeing 747F) with a carrying capacity of up to 80 tonnes.

Her childhood dream of flying began when she visited her mother’s pharmacy at Kilimanjaro International Airport. She watched local and international flights flying and landing at the airport while assisting her mother at the pharmacy, as well as cabin crew members, including female pilots, who motivated her to engage in aviation.

Swai finished her education at the Blue Chip Flying Academy in Pretoria, South Africa, at the age of 19, thanks to her parents’ financial and spiritual support. She completed a Private Pilot Training course and obtained a Private Pilot License (PPL) in three months. She took her first solo flight in a Cessna172 around Wonderboom Airport in South Africa, and nine months later, she received her Commercial Pilot License (CPL), allowing her to fly passenger flights.

The teenage pilot had to take the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) conversion tests exam upon her return to Tanzania, according to The Citizen. In an interview, she recalled that, despite her parents’ encouragement, it was difficult to work in a field dominated by men and white people. “In 2009, there were only two blacks in the training, and I was the only female student.” “They were looking at me, a young girl at the time, and doubting whether I would be able to finish the course,” Swai told Daily News.

She had to study even harder than her male competitors to prove everyone wrong, and today, the wife and mother of one continues to rise in the aviation sector, where she has served as a pilot for 14 years and acquired 8,700 hours of flight experience. Swai, 33, now wishes to advance her profession as she prepares to pursue studies in aircraft investigation. In the next five years, the aviation pioneer hopes to be an instructor in a larger aircraft, helping others realize their aviation dreams.

Africa got its first female pilot in 1964, but the tremendous feat was insufficient to inspire additional women to pursue careers in aviation. Over the years, women were only trained as flight attendants, which seemed to be the most appealing job in the aviation industry. Piloting was primarily reserved for men until women began to show an interest in the sector in order to diversify and realize their ambitions. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) most recent global study, Africa now has the greatest number of female pilots, at 5.2%, up from 4.1% in 2016.

Swai is urging other women to work harder in order to attain their goals. “In this world, society must recognize that there are no jobs reserved for men and others for women.” Any work can be done by anyone. “The most important thing is to love and value it,” remarked the captain.

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