Captain Chinyere Kalu is a pacesetter in Nigeria’s aviation sector. Born in 1970, Kalu is the first female commercial pilot and the first woman to fly an aircraft in Nigeria.
In a 2012 interview with Vanguard, Kalu credited her pioneering aviation career to her aunty, who was her mentor and happened to be the first person to travel to the United Kingdom “from my village, so she was some kind of a celebrity of her time.”
When Kalu mentioned the idea of pursuing a career in aviation, the aunty urged her to go for it stating that “this is your opportunity, don’t even look back, just make the most of it, grab it,” she recalled in the interview. “So she was quite instrumental, encouraging, and motivating. And, because she is my mother’s elder sister, and she was more or less the head of the family, she had a lot of influence, so once she had given her blessing, her go-ahead, my mother just said it was fine.”
A native of Ukwa East in the eastern Nigerian state of Abia, Kalu attended the Anglican Girls Grammar School, Yaba, Lagos, and then trained as a Private and Commercial Pilot in 1978 at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria under SP.12 Batch.
Kalu later took various aviation and transport courses in the United Kingdom and the United States before receiving her license as a commercial pilot on May 20, 1981, from the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology.
Despite the tremendous support she had from her family, Kalu’s history-making feat didn’t come easy, battling her way through the male-dominated field to get noticed and the motivating factor she said was the “adventurous spirit to venture out to see what was out there.”
“I felt flying would be challenging and I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing at the time. I wanted something unique, something special, something challenging, something that would be fulfilling. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to travel all over the world and being paid for it,” she told the Vanguard.
Kalu said the journey had not been easy, stating that if one is not from the ‘right part’ of the country if he or she doesn’t speak the ‘right language’, he or she won’t get all the support and encouragement. She had suffered a lot because of that.
Kalu recalled “in fact, I had been a threat to a number of people, chief executives, prior to my time. They felt so threatened to the point that they felt if they left me to excel, probably I was going to take their job from them. So there was a lot of victimization, but the bottom line is that God, who brought me from the dunghill, has made it possible for me to be on this seat at this time and I just thank Him.
“It has not been easy. There was a period in my life that I was sent packing for 14 months, no salary, nothing! And that was not the first time or the second, but God has been faithful and that is the bottom line. It has not been easy because I didn’t have the desired support, I didn’t have godfathers and I was there suffering, but God has been faithful.”
Kalu served as the Rector and Chief Executive of Nigerian College of Aviation Technology between 2011 and 2014.
In 2006 Kalu had a plane crash during a learning flight with two girls, twin sisters, and a boy. That crash was so similar to an earlier one she had. She had gone flying and somehow the engine began coughing.
“I started coming back to the field and I was able to make it to the field. That was an incident some years back and, when we landed, we realized that water had entered the engine. We drained and saw half bottle of water from the engine, so it was the water that entered the engine that was making the aircraft to rough run and not to perform well,” she recalled.