Welcome to the fourth instalment in our Limitless series and it’s time to meet Amanda Kandawire-Khoza, the multi-talented pilot who’s trailblazing in both aviation and entrepreneurship. When Amanda is not flying aeroplanes, she’s creating digital artwork or mentoring the next generation of leaders in science, technology, maths and engineering.
The 31-year-old pilot became the first black South African woman to fly the A380, the biggest passenger jet in the world, after moving to the UAE in January last year. Covid-19 may have cut her dream-come-true short but while being grounded during global lockdowns, she has launched two passion-projects.
Amanda used her new free time to start her own business, Layover Art, where she creates and commissions digital artwork that’s inspired by African women. The other project aims to encourage more young African girls follow in her footsteps and think sky-high.
Born in the iconic township of Soweto, Amanda knew as a kid that she wanted to fly. She recalls her first time on a plane at the age of five and the fascination of watching the aircraft swiftly carry passengers into the air. Although she’s never seen her gender as a deterrent to succeeding in the industry, being the only black girl in her aviation school made her realize that gaining recognition wouldn’t be easy.
She’s young, black, a woman and she is in the cockpit of the biggest plane in the world.
“My gender never played a role in my decision to become a pilot but I quickly realized that there are very few people who look like me represented in aviation,” she explains. It’s this fact that makes her flying the A380 more significant; she’s young, black, a woman and she is in the cockpit of the biggest plane in the world – all this, while hailing from a country where just decades ago, black people were not allowed to obtain a commercial flying license.
The unpredictability of the aviation industry has meant dealing with bouts of unemployment, a challenge that Amanda has turned into an opportunity. When she couldn’t find work, she spent time investing in her drawing which led to the birth of Layover Art during the Covid-19 lockdown. Layover Art is an art space commissioning and selling printed artwork, earrings, tote bags and homeware in South Africa and the UK. She also founded ‘Fly Like A Girl’, a company encouraging young girls to think about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through educational toys.
Amanda is intentional about not only surrounding herself with other women in aviation, but making it easier for aspiring black pilots to see somebody who looks like them breaking the mould.
Being a woman navigating a male dominated industry over the past 11 years has made the need for community that much more apparent and Amanda is intentional about not only surrounding herself with other women in aviation, but making it easier for aspiring black pilots to see somebody who looks like them breaking the mould.
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She admits that it’s a heavy expectation to carry but that she’s able to rise to the occasion because of the support of her family and partner. “It’s important to choose a partner who will support your goals. I made it very clear to my husband when we first met that I’m a pilot and I don’t plan on changing that for anything any time soon.” she recalls.
As the world begins to open up, Amanda is optimistic about flying again and her business is also gaining traction. “What started off as art that I would work on during layovers has become my full nine to five. I’ve put so much of myself into my work and it’s been incredible to see how much the brand has grown over the past year.”
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With thanks to Africa No Filter who made this series possible.