Roselyne Sachiti Features Editor
Yesterday morning, two Air Zimbabwe female pilots – Captains Chipo Matimba and Elizabeth Simbi Petros – became the first pilots to fly a Boeing 737 from Harare to Victoria Falls in the country’s first ever all-female flight deck crew .
ONE of them simply described the experience as “exhilarating”. The moment was simply one to savour, for history had been made.
They first broke the glass ceiling when they became pilots in a male-dominated aviation field some years back.
And, yesterday morning, two Air Zimbabwe female pilots Captains Chipo Matimba and Elizabeth Simbi Petros became the first pilots to fly a Boeing 737 from Harare to Victoria Falls in the country’s first ever all- female flight deck crew .
This is the first time in the history of the airline and a memorable moment for the two captains.
Only one male was part of the cabin crew.
On her Facebook page an excited Captain Matimba said: “History has been made! First all-female flight deck crew on the Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737! Two captains! Absolute pleasure Captain Elizabeth Simbi Petros,” her post read.
Petros also posted on her Facebook page: “Air Zim First all-Women 737 Flight Deck Crew! Flight to Vic Falls This Morning. Was a pleasure Skipper Chipo Matimba!”
Indeed, they painted the sky pink especially when it comes to gender disparity in the aviation field. In the world of commercial airlines, piloting is one of the most skewed with 97 percent of all commercial pilots being male (4 000 female commercial pilots versus 130 000 male worldwide according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots). With only five female pilots at Air Zimbabwe, Matimba and Petros are the two captains while three others are first officers.
Air Zimbabwe services routes that include Harare to Johannesburg, Victoria Falls, Kariba, and Lusaka and the two have flown in the company of male pilots. From the first aircraft, a Siai Marchetti SF260, also known as the Genet, Captain Matimba ever flew she has not looked back. In an interview some years back, Captain Matimba explained how soon after high school, she saw an advert for Air Force of Zimbabwe trainee pilots and applied.
She went through the recruitment formalities in 1994 and it was not a bed of roses as the military training was gruelliing certainly not insurmountable. With other female Zimbabwean pilots like Captain Emily Njovana having paved the way for them in the male- dominated field, Matimba and Petros could not just resist the temptation “to play with the big birds”. And yesterday, the two cruised the sky in the hour-long flight to Victoria Falls before flying back to Harare at 4:30pm.
Social media was also abuzz with praise and congratulatory messages for the female pilots. In four hours Captain Chipo Matimba’s post had been shared 385 times on Facebook receiving 268 likes. “Great news this. Absolutely fantastic! Well done ladies. I and the other millions of Zimbabwean ladies thank you for representing us well. Tinotenda. Thank you Air Zimbabwe,” commented Elizabeth Vavashe.
Leroy Lambert Goliath another Facebook user said: “It should be illegal to look that good and fly at the same time (see what I did there). Congratulations Ladies. Well done.”
Sally Mwaketa commented on the post saying: “Go Girls. Girls with ambition. That’s what I want to see! Proud of you all the way. The Galaxy is the limit. You can actually fly a spaceship.”
The praise was much the same on Twitter where a tweet congratulating the two ladies received 126 retweets from Zimbabweans and other Africans in under an hour. One tweep @KamoElevated commented with the hashtags #WomanPower #BlackExcellence. Captains Matimba and Petros join a unique sorority of all female flight crews. The first all-black female flight was on February 12, 2009 . History was made when an all- African American flight (ASA) crew departed Atlanta. All of the crew, from the pilot and first officer to the two flight attendants serving in the cabin all were African American and all were female!
Last year Kenya Airways made history with an all-female crew flight on a new B787 plane. This year Russia began tests for a first all-female space crew for a potential moon mission in 2029. Six women will spend eight days in a mock spacecraft simulating flight conditions and performing tasks to assess their suitability.
Yesterday was just another milestone in Captain Matimba and Petros’ ground-breaking careers. It was also confirmation that the sky has failed to limit them and they are aiming for the galaxy.