This year, Siza Mzimela, a South African businesswoman, became the first black woman to start her own airline.
Mzimela, whose full name is Sizakele Petunia Mzimela, launched her own airline called Fly Blue Crane in September. The airline provides domestic flights from O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to cities in South Africa, including Nelspruit, Bloemfontein, and Kimberly.
Fly Blue Crane currently has two 50-seat ERJ 145s aircraft. Mzimela said that she hopes to open up routes that will help small communities grow their economies through launching Fly Blue Crane.
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“It’s taken us a good 18 months to get to our first flight, which was on the first of September, but indeed, a lot of people just assume it happened overnight,” Siza Mzimela told CNBC Africa. “I’ve always been passionate in using the airline to open the routes and actually grow the economies of the smaller towns.”
Mzimela added that she plans to expand their flight destinations to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo so she can serve more communities.
“The airline will aim to keep its current rates in order to make flying affordable for both business and leisure travel,” she said.
Mzimela was also the first woman to become CEO of South African Express Airways and of South African Airlines. She is responsible for launching non-stop flights to other destinations such as New York and Beijing SAA.
Fueled by her desire to provide equal service to all people, she told CNBC Africa that her aircraft are “all leather seats and everyone gets treated specially.” She said she earned the moniker “Mama Africa” because she was passionate about opening up Africa to the world.
Besides being the first female CEO of two major airline companies in South Africa, Siza Mzimela is also the first woman appointed to the International Air Transport Association’s Board of Directors in 67 years. Moreover, the entrepreneur founded Blue Crane Aviation, an African aviation service provider that assists airlines with legal, management, and consulting services.
She also serves as a board member of the South African tourism Board and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for girls.
Siza Mzimela may have made history as the first black woman to own an airline, but she admitted the climb to the top has been difficult.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into meetings and people just assumed I was going to be the one taking notes,” she said in her interview with CNBC.
According to a report by accounting consulting firm Grant Thornton International, 27 percent of top decision-making roles in South African businesses are held by women and 22 percent of senior roles globally. However, despite the growing number of African female entrepreneurs, the figures could still change.
One of the women making waves in the aviation industry is Dr. Ola Orekunrin, who serves as the Medical Director of Flying Doctors Nigeria, West Africa’s first and only full air ambulance service. Back in 2007, the Hull-York Medical School graduate set up the air ambulance service that could reach patients anytime, anywhere.
Sibongile Sambo, CEO of SRS Aviation, is often dubbed as South Africa’s female aviation pioneer. SRS Aviation is the “first 100 percent black, female-owned aviation services company in South Africa” according to venturesafrica.com.
Refilwe Ledwaba said her humble beginnings and passion to help young ladies realize their dreams in the aviation industry inspired her to establish Southern African Women in Aviation and Aerospace Industry (SAWIA).
To all the women who want to break free from gender and racial stereotypes, Siza Mzimela has one piece of sage advice: “Forget about the fact that you’re going to be the first. A whole lot of people get caught up in that. It holds people back.”
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