Malawi made aviation history this week as it became the first African country to host an extraordinary profile world conference for female pilots, tagged the Ninety-Nines (The 99s).
In an interview, Ivana Alvares-Marshall, a pilot who operates from Malawi and who also governs the African Chapter of the Ninety Nines, said the grouping decided to hold the first conference in Malawi and stated that it was a special event as this international organisation for women pilots was celebrating its 90th Anniversary.
Marshall said that it was the first time in the aviation history of Malawi that 60 aviatrixes from around the world attended a conference which was documented by a well-recognised international film crew from Germany.
“I hoped that this would not be seen simply as a on-off but rather that influential individuals and businesses would not only assist in sponsoring the event with our own fundraising initiatives but that there-after work with the Ninety Nines by funding scholarships for women to train not only as aircrew but in all aspects of the aviation industry.,” said Marshall.
She said they are well underrepresented in this sector. Female pilots remain a rarity especially in Africa worldwide, with just 5.3% of pilots being women.
“The numbers are starting to increase but still a miniscule amount. We as the African section will promote Advancement of aviation through education, scholarship fund mutual support while honoring our unique history and sharing our passion for flight,” she said.
In between their conference, the delegates had an excursion trip to the Mulanje Mountain and to Thyolo at Makandi Tea Estate and factory done on Friday, a day after their arrival.
The pilots also visited Lake Malawi before flying to Serengeti Game Park in Tanzania.
Enroute to Lake Malawi, they made a stopover at Mua Mission to see cultural dances and traditional Malawian African masks.
During the conference, the pilots had motivational speakers in the hall morning before enjoying a boat cruise.
All the events were being filmed by DStv and later will be beamed on one of DStv’s platform, according to MultiChoice Malawi’s head of commercials, Yuk-Yen Au-yeung Sung-wai.
She said they had come to prepare the documentary aimed at motivating aspiring female pilots in Malawi and across Africa.
“This is a great aviation moment for Malawi as four of our female pilots are part of this global event.
“We also felt we had to get involved in order to market the Malawi tourism across the world. It’s a great opportunity for the country’s tourism,” she said.
The 99s provides networking, mentoring and flight scholarship opportunities to recreational and professional female pilots.
As of 2018, it had 155 chapters across the globe, including a ‘virtual’ chapter, Ambassador 99s, which meets online for those who are too busy or mobile to be in one region for long. The organisation was founded on November 2, 1929 (90 years ago) by 26 licensed women pilots for the mutual support and advancement of women pilots.
Amelia Earhart called for a meeting of female pilots in 1929 following the Women’s Air Derby where all 117 women pilots licensed at the time were invited and the group is named for the 99 of them who attended the meeting or expressed an interest in forming the group.
In 2014, The 99s was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Its headquarters are in Oklahoma City in the US and has a membership of 5,100.
It has a museum at Will Rodgers World Airport in Oklahoma whose artifacts include historical papers, personal items, video and oral histories, photos, memorabilia and other notable artifacts from famed woman aviators from around the globe.
The museum collection and exhibits provide insight into the role women pilots played in the development of aviation and their historical footprint.
The 99s members support the goals of the organisation by being active in numerous aviation activities that includes aviation education seminars in the community, air racing, and air marking by volunteering their time to paint airport names, compass rose symbols and other identifications on airports.