After a terrifying experience on a turbulent flight when she was four years old, Leandra Pinho had her mind set that the world needed good pilots, and that she was going to be one of them. At 26, she has just reached a big milestone of 1 000 hours of flying.
Growing up with a single mother, there was never a guarantee that there would be funds to study further. But after years of saving, she put herself through aviation school and obtained her private pilot license. “I am lucky enough to love what I do and to be extremely passionate about what I do,” she says. “I don’t wake up and go to work every day — I wake up and live my dream.”
She flies all across Africa, including in war zones in western and central Africa. Some of her experiences could read straight off of the pages of adventure books: she’s been part of military operations, stayed in military camps, slept on a stretcher in the middle of the desert, and had runways bombed while attempting to land. She’s flown in bulletproof vests, and cooked food underneath the wing of an aircraft with one firelighter and one match in 50 degree heat. She also assists in medical evacuations, and delivers medical equipment, personnel from Doctors Without Borders, and food to refugee camps on a weekly basis. “I believe that the risks are worth the good being delivered each and every day,” she says.
Pinho says her work is very far from glamorous, and it can sometimes be challenging to be a female pilot in such a male-dominated space. “Men are intimidated by women in this industry. It is an industry of huge ego, and this is why the women in aviation have to be extremely strong at heart and extremely passionate. Out of approximately 49 pilots in my company, there are only three woman pilots. A big positive would be when people see you in the airport and they can’t believe they are meeting a woman pilot. Most of the time I’m the first one many people have met.”
All said and done, when Pinho is in the air, she is on cloud nine. “My most peaceful time is when I’m airborne. My life has clarity, I know why I am there, I am one with my passion, my love and my life.”
— Aaisha Dadi Patel