The rejected flight attendant who started her own aviation company

african start up srs aviation spc_00000513
african start up srs aviation spc_00000513

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Story highlights

  • SRS Aviation is South Africa's first all-female jet company
  • Founder Sibongile Sambo did not meet height requirements to be a flight attendant
  • She has now helped three women become pilots -- and plans to support more

(CNN)For one South African businesswoman, getting more female pilots into the skies is not just her work, it's her passion.

Sibongile Sambo wanted to be a flight attendant with South African Airways, but she did not meet the minimum height requirement to become one.
So she decided to star her own business, and had to sell her car and use her mother's pension money to set it up.
Today, she is the founder of SRS Aviation, Africa's first female aviation company.
In 2004, Sambo was commissioned with her first flight for the South African government.
    SRS Aviation founder Sibongile Sambo
    Since then, SRS Aviation has grown to provide personalized services including helicopter, tourist and luxury flights to destinations spanning the globe. The Johannesburg-based crew have flown as far as the U.S. and Germany.
    "It could be a tourist charter for $1,000 or could be a head of state traveling on a VIP aircraft to the United States, which could be about $200,000," said the entrepreneur.

    Breaking into a male dominated industry

    The business may be high-flying now, but it has seen more turbulent days. For Sambo, breaking into this male-dominated industry and "getting to learn the language" proved challenging.
    Despite the difficulties, SRS Aviation received an Air Operating Certificate by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), allowing it to operate commercial flying activities, and has helped three women get their private pilot licenses. They are now employed full-time.
    SRS Aviation has helped three women get their pilots license
    The company has also partnered with MCC Aviation, an established player in the South African aviation business. The deal gives Sambo access to a fleet of aircraft, as well as technical and operational support.
    "I'm where I am today because somebody invested in me," she says. "It's my opportunity now to invest in other people."

    Making strides in Africa

    Last year, Ethiopia Airlines dispatched its first flight run by an entirely female crew in a bid to encourage more African women into aviation. Sambo wants more South African women to join the effort and make it big as jet pilots.
    Sambo plans to expand SRS Aviation's helicopter services across Africa
    Current growth plans for her company include expanding SRS Aviation helicopter services and its operations across the African continent.
    "What I'm proud of about our company is that we have managed to penetrate the male dominated industry," she adds. "Aviation is growing in Africa. We are going to grow with the growth in Africa."