Africa to Canada – A Student Pilot’s Adventure & License Conversion

– Michelle Modzonga, CLA Commercial Pilot Student

Strength, determination and resilience. The pursuit of becoming a career pilot that spans across 3 continents and a number of pilot license conversions.

My dream to become a pilot grew from seeing cabin crew walking in and out of airports eloquently dressed. Until l met Zimbabwe’s first female Captain, Emily Njovana, oh my! That uniform sat so well on her and she carried herself so gracefully. I poked my Mom and said to her “l want to be like her”, with a smile my Mom answered back to me, “you can become whoever you want to be as long as you set your mind to it”.

By the time l completed high l had done all the research on pilot training, watched countless seasons of aircraft investigations and bought aviation magazines; l was obsessed. I was in university before l got accepted to start my training April 2008 at Hunter Valley Aviation in Cessnock New South Wales, Australia. Everything fell in place as the funds arrived at the right time and l had also just passed and completed my programme at University of Zimbabwe. I won’t bore about the PPL exams l had written in Zimbabwe and the 2 hours l did as it was just a foundation for everything to come.

Australia was beautiful, l really enjoyed flying there. Meeting students from all walks of life and listening as they all shared their amazing story of aviation. One thing I did know was that l knew my story wasn’t as simple compared to those many of my peers had shared. I had to work and go to school. l didn’t have the luxury of having money sent from my family back home due to the traumatizing events going on in Zimbabwe in 2008. The inflation rate was sky rocketing and everyone was a billionaire in Zimbabwe, however even a billion wouldn’t buy you a loaf of bread, literally.

Commercial Pilot License Edmonton

Fast forward 15 months after l first arrived in Australia l completed my CPL and it was time to head home, l didn’t want to believe it but l had no choice. I traveled back to motherland and converted my Australian CPL to a Zimbabwean license. I decided to further move to South Africa and converted to a South African license with the hope to spread my net wide and open up doors for the possibility of a job in either country. If l could have converted to every African country, l was geared for it.

2010 to 2014 was a real trying time as both my patience and faith were tested. l taught PPL ground school and only had 2 job interviews in 4 years. In 2013 Air Zimbabwe gave me my first break with an opportunity to join the airlines. The interviews went great and even attended Air Zimbabwe’s 737 simulator evaluation in South Africa. l thought that this was it but unfortunately l sat another year.

One of my favorite quotes by Mary Kay Ash, “when you reach an obstacle, turn it into an opportunity. You have the choice. You can overcome and be a winner, or you can allot it to overcome you and be a loser. The choice is yours and yours alone. Refuse to throw in the towel. Go that extra mile that failures refuse to travel. It is far better to be exhausted from success than to be rested from failure.”

Giving up was not an option. In 2014 l bought a one way ticket to Edmonton, Canada. Don’t ask me why but l can tell you l didn’t bother to google about the winter, until l met -40 degrees celsius with wind chill, that was really new.

Did l think of going back to Zimbabwe? Hell no, never, that was never an option. Not everyone will believe in your dreams and not everyone will be happy when you pursue your dreams. l was given a million reasons to throw my log book and licenses in the bin and l did fall for it. In December 2016 l was very restless and sent out schooling applications for registered nursing programs. Throughout the process I knew that this was not for me, until one day I spotted a glimmer of hope.

Discovery Flight Edmonton

A favourable response from Transport Canada changed everything. I started researching Aviation Schools in the Edmonton area with the hope of converting my license to a Canadian Commercial Pilot License. One gentleman passed along Ben’s contact information, the Chief Pilot at Cooking Lake Aviation. l was glad l met Ben who then introduced me to CLA Instructor, Denis. Finally, a way forward was mapped on how l would convert my license. I have made friends at cooking lake aviation who make this journey worthwhile and the environment suits my needs.

I have been to several aviation schools and have read through dozens of aviation college websites. Every school will guarantee you a license at the end of your training, but Cooking Lake Aviation goes beyond that. They will prepare you for that ground breaking interview for your first job, not only on paper but also in person.

The first CLA presentation l attended hosted by Rob Forst was intended to prepare commercial students to transition from flight training to a commercial pilot job. The presentation was such an eye opener for myself. If every one of the students l had trained with in Australia received such a presentation after completing their commercial pilot license, l guarantee that we would all be flying across the globe for one airline or the other.

Today I am currently studying for the Transport Canada, Commercial Pilot Written examination as well as building my PIC time. In Australia, the minimum amount of PIC time required for a CPL is 70, where as over here in Canada the PIC time required is 100 hours. Once I complete the necessary requirements for the CPL license I will complete both the Multi-Engine & Instrument ratings. My goal is to complete the ratings efficiently and effectively in order to get out into the job market as soon as possible! Ultimately, I see myself in future piloting an aircraft with a major airline, knowing that this journey was well worth the adventure!

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Ask me in XYZ years from now if l would change anything about my aviation journey in aviation so far, l would say no. l have met amazing people and have acquired a strong personality that l wouldn’t trade for anything. A Lesson l have learnt along the way is “to celebrate every milestone because it helps your prepare for the road ahead” – Nelson Mandela.

The struggle of me that l need to have known, that l need to have touched, that l need to have fellowship is tied up not to the success of my life because l haven’t attained it but in the struggles of my life, for l have gained more through my struggles because my successes will be made out of the ingredients of my struggle. My struggles will be the pathway that will lead me into my success.

If you have any questions regarding the pilot license conversion process, or would like to touch base with Michelle, contact us!