When Liana Mongetane-Petersen started out in aviation, she was confronted by a mostly white, male-dominated industry. Undeterred by this, she sought to carve her own identity not only as a pilot, but also as an aviation trainer.
Now her Mach1 Aviation Academy, which is based in Springs in Ekurhuleni, stands out above the rest. It is one of the few black and women-owned flight academies in the country.
Mongetane-Petersen, who hails from the North West, told Vutivi News that she was in the aviation industry for 10 years before she founded her own academy in 2015. “While I was working at the Civil Aviation Authority, they were giving bursaries for people to fly,” she said. “I was one of the few who put my hand up and said that I will try this thing out. My business partner, who at that time was my instructor, and I saw a huge gap that there were no non-white flight schools in the market,” she said. Herself and her business partner then decided to open a flight school and see if it would take off despite the odds being stacked against them.
“When we initially started the flight school in a male-dominated, all white industry, we were running from a three-bedroomed place outside the airfield. We would run from the three-bedroom in my old Yaris and lease an aircraft from other flight schools because we didn’t have the aircraft at the time,” Mongetane-Petersen said. Initially they started with four students, and she was the academy’s Jack of all trades.
Eventually she and her business partner approached the owners of the airfield with a business proposal. But they were met with more challenges. “I remember they asked me to write a business plan, and my business partner and I went to go and present it in front of six old men, the youngest of whom was…60-years-old,” she recalled.
“They looked at the business plan and said that it doesn’t make sense, and one of them made a comment and said that in three to six months this business is going to fall apart. For me it was an opportunity… to prove to them that it wasn’t going to fall apart.”
They were eventually given access to the airfield, rented their first hangar and airfield. “We rented our first hangar, and I bought our first aircraft with my pension money. Most of the academy’s students are foreign nationals,” she said. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, they had 19 aircraft. But due to the tourism sector closing down for most of the lockdown, they were forced to sell 13 aircraft.
The academy’s number of students has also been impacted. It has gone from 130 students to 60. The academy has trained about 350 students, and most of them have gone on to work for international airlines, including training cabin crews.
Mongetane-Petersen was planning on branching into other sectors within the aviation industry before the outbreak.
“Before Covid-19, my partner and I were planning on training aircraft mechanics, because there isn’t a non-white entity that trains aircraft mechanics. We obtained the license to maintain our aircraft in February, so now that we can maintain our own aircraft, we can bring our own people in so that we can train them. Our vision is to start up an academy for aircraft mechanics,” she said. Another big dream was for her to become a drone operator.
Mongetane-Petersen believed that in the next couple of years she would incorporate all her goals and the aviation industry would open to black people like never before.
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