A Word From Our Ceo - Attie Niemann
At some point or another, we've all had a dream. Some of us have wanted to become doctors, others have wanted to fly planes. Unfortunately, many children are not as fortunate as you or I may have been, and do not have the support and facilities to dream freely. That is why a dedicated lady by the name of Fatima Jakoet decided to establish the 'Sakhikamva Foundation' to help children dream big and create a better tomorrow for themselves and everyone around them.
Here is her story...
My happiest childhood memories were that of a four year old sitting in our backyard in the country town of Wellington, waiting for the Boeing to fly over our house. At the slightest sound or sight, there would be a performance from me. I would call the entire neighbourhood’s kids to come and look at the aeroplane that will bring me something special one day. Well, I actually thought it would bring me another brother or sister…because, that’s where I thought babies came from!
At the age of five my Mother enrolled me in school. I assume that the racket I made became too much for her to handle every day. That was when my love story with aviation started.
Growing up, my dreams constantly changed. I dreamed of being a pilot, a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, a pilot, a spy … I also devised plenty of schemes to get over an electrical fence with a trampoline!
And then of course, there was the supermodel dream! Ah, I would wear the most glamorous clothes and travel the world and maybe, if I’m lucky, I could star in a James Bond movie!
During my high school years I seriously applied my mind to studying medicine after school and secretly devised yet another plan. Once qualified as a doctor and pilot, I would take my aeroplane and travel Africa from tip to toe healing and helping those who were not fortunate enough. I imaged hopping into my aeroplane packed with all the supplies that will help my brothers and sisters in Africa and, at the same time, become one with my aeroplane.
In my heart I knew it was nearly an impossible dream. We were at the height of apartheid and, as a Muslim girl; I wasn’t even allowed to go to a school where “white kids” went. I was already at a disadvantage. With my determination and passion however, I knew that I had the power to make my dreams a reality.
With the great disappointment of not getting into medical school, I embarked on my second choice of studying chemistry. My career in chemistry took me into the most fascinating field of forensic science where I specialized as a toxicologist and narcotic drugs specialist. Whilst it’s not as glamorous as CSI makes it out to be, it is a rewarding career in which I developed my skills as a scientist, crime scene investigator and expert witness. It was in these years that I gathered insight into the world of drugs, murders, our judicial system and the extent of crime in South Africa in general.
It was during this time that I started to appreciate just how fortunate I was to have had parents that were encouraging and supportive throughout my life and who provided me with a sound foundation and secure environment so that I didn’t have to seek comforts outside our home or beyond the boundaries of Islam.
One sunny Tuesday while I was confiscating drugs at the airport – my first experience on the tarmac at Cape Town International Airport, I stood mesmerized by the sight of a Boeing 747-400. A blue one – l won’t mention the competition. It was calling me and I felt like that four year old little girl again. I turned to my colleague Gerrit and said: “This 747-400 called my name and one day I am going to be in control of that big machine”. As I read over the South African Airways (SAA) Cadet Pilot selection advertisement, I couldn’t help thinking; “This could be my chance to make my dreams come true!” I just knew I couldn’t let this opportunity go by.
It was an arduous journey getting onto the SAA cadet pilot program - a nail-biting twelve months before I was selected. The rigorous process demanded six steps which included a psychometric test, medical examination, two computer simulator tests, getting through an eight hour psychological profiling test and finally the selection board interview. At each stage of the process, applicants were eliminated. From about 6000 applicants only 16 were selected for the program. The chances of being selected were thus 0.3%.
The cadet pilot training program consisted of four phases. The first phase was a training course of four months in South Africa. This phase included life skills, managing cultural diversity, business awareness, physics of flying at the Tshwane University of Technology and the basic aircraft training such as weight and balance, Air navigation regulations, meteorology, radio procedures, mechanics electronics, radio navigation and instruments. This built the foundation for the next phase. The pass mark for all exams was 75% throughout the training program. After the completion of this phase we were assessed individually in terms of leadership and motivation as well as academic performance.
The next phase was the crucial phase, training at British Aerospace Systems Flight Training College in Adelaide, Australia, where we graduated with a Commercial pilot’s License with a Frozen Airline Transport license. This is certainly where I worked the hardest in my entire life but it was worth the blood, sweat and tears.
Let me briefly share what my experience in Australia was like. It was like a reality TV show. This experience was like a combination of Survivor and Big Brother. Besides competing with your fellow cadets, you had to work hard to survive because Big Brother was watching. This caused me countless sleepless nights as I had to motivate myself every day to be positive and optimistic. If you were not on top of your game, you wouldn’t make the grade. South African Airways require their pilots to be of an extremely high standard and it starts at the training level. Also, this was my dream and I had the power to make it a reality.
It is here that I also learnt that assertiveness and confidence are vital to being a pilot. Above all, this is where we built our camaraderie within our group – we cried together, supported each other through the tough times and celebrated our achievements together. When one member didn’t make the course and was sent home, it felt like the group had failed that person. Eleven of us ultimately went on to graduate at the end of the 16 months at the College.
Next, I was afforded the opportunity of an internship at Airlink. Freshly graduated and back in South Africa, with wings proudly pinned to my crisp white shirt, I braved the African skies. What an invigorating experience! With 200 hours in my logbook, I was flying an 11 ton turboprop aeroplane. A Jetstream 41 to be precise – a 29 seater aeroplane. For a young, eager pilot the learning curve was a steep one. At the time, we joked that we were so far behind the aircraft that we needed our own squawk code. This formed the foundation for me as an airline pilot. I certainly had fun and met so many great mentors during that time.
After my internship at Airlink I was appointed at South African Airways – this was a dream come true. At last, the moment had arrived! However, before that, we had to go through another selection process which involved a simulator test (flying a Boeing 747-400) and an interview with the selection board. Being selected as a pilot was not just a privilege but also an honour – the honour of flying our national flag; the privilege to be a pilot at one of the best airlines in the world. It was a dream come true in so many ways.
I get goose bumps just thinking back to when I did my first conversion at the airline – licensed to fly that Boeing 747-400 that I stood in front of six years before. I felt so blessed to have been able to have my calling answered.
Today, I am based in Cape Town as a First Officer flying the Boeing 737-800 and have accumulated just over 5000 hours. In the descent into Cape Town, I fly over my childhood home and I wonder if there is a little girl wishing that my aeroplane would bring her something special one day.
Fatima Jakoet is currently a Senior First Officer at South African Airways. She joined SAA in June 2005. She started her career at SAA on the Boeing 747-400 and a year later started flying the Airbus 340 series operating the international routes. In 2008 she completed her conversion onto the Boeing 737-800 and is currently based in Cape Town.
Fatima was part of SAA Cadet Group Nine in 2001 and graduated with her frozen ATPL from the BAE Flight training college in Adelaide, Australia. She joined Airlink in November 2002 where she operated the Jetstream 41.
Fatima graduated from the University of Stellenbosch Business School in 2009 having achieved a distinction for her MBA thesis entitled: “A safety culture survey amongst Aircraft Maintenance Engineers”. She also holds a degree in Chemistry and was part of both the National Health and the SAPS Forensic laboratory teams where she filled the roles of forensic toxicology and narcotics expert respectively.
In 2010, Fatima established a foundation to create aviation awareness and develop skills amongst learners from grade 1-12. To date the Sakhikamva (Xhosa for “Building a future”) Foundation has interacted with more than 50 000 learners and has run more than 12 programs and projects on a rotational basis. The foundation has also established a PPL scholarship in partnership with Morningstar Flight academy. The Sakhikamva Foundation formed strategic partnerships with Universities to ensure that meaningful and sustainable development platforms are built for the youth in aviation.
Fatima is currently working on a project to investigate the transformation of Aviation talent pipeline in commercial aviation; its challenges and the solutions. We wish her every success!