My name is Vanessa Umba. I am from Belgium and Congo (DRC). I am a Captain on A320 since 2011.
My career in aviation started more than 10 years ago with the SABENA Flight Academy. In 2003, Brussels Airlines hired me as a First Officer on AVRO RJ85/100. 3 years later, I joined Gulf Air as First Officer on A330/340. I became a Captain on A320 in 2011. The first female captain in the history of Gulf Air.
Flying is a challenge for any professional pilot. It requires a lot of commitment, time and passion. Today a women pilot is still an exception. Estimates from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots say there are about 4,000 women pilots worldwide, of about 130,000, that’s just over 3%*. And being part of a minority implies to always prove yourself a bit more than the others. Nevertheless I never found any difficulties to adapt to this environment where the stereotype of male-only pilot persists. I know some people get surprised the first time they see me in command. Then when they realise I operate exactly as any other pilot, they relax.
My proudest achievement in life is not to be a Captain but to be a "Flying-mother". I am a mother of 3 amazing children. Dealing with a demanding career and a family is not easy every day. It requires an extensive organisation, but thanks to the unconditional support of my husband. Even if he has a full time career in the Wood industry.
Flying is truly magical. Landing a plane is a fantastic experience. The scenery of our planet from the flight desk is incomparable: clouds, mountains, lakes, shooting stars, cities, ... Additionally each flight brings different problems to sort out. Issues might be linked to a defect of the aircraft, some marginal weather, a sick passenger, the airport facilities reduced, etc. The pleasure of getting back home, knowing all issues that arose have been sorted out in a safely manner, is immense. It makes each and every flight different, killing any sort of routine. Nevertheless it stays a job; a demanding daily employment that NOT everyone can enjoy.
Therefore when asked if I want my kids to become pilot, I answer that they should just follow THEIR passion. Our society creates pre-determined choices for each individual. A child should be a doctor like his/her father. A wife is expected to take care of the house. A husband to support his family financially. It probably fits the majority of the people. But some, like me, will do all at once. Some might do everything opposite to the "normal" path. Fair enough. As long as you follow YOUR truth, it will lead you to accomplish YOUR dream.
By joining the Ninety-Nines in 2011, I met a lot of special women, incredible individual, each of them being unique. What we have in common is that we follow our truth, being who we want to be, which is not necessarily what the society expect from us, especially in this part of the world.
The aviation world in the Middle East becomes open to female pilots. When I joined Arabian section of the Ninety-Nines in 2011 we were only 16 members. Today, in only 5 years, we are 99. We are a real family, encouraging and supporting each other.
Thanks to the effort of all our members, and especially Alia Twal, the governor of the Arabian section of the Ninety-Nines, the number of member grows at a fast paste. I am looking forward to meeting other aviatrices through our special family.
Vanessa Umba A320 Captain MSc Air Transport Management Freelance web-designer