‘Why I dumped legal practice to become a PILOT

What does it feel like to be the first lady pilot from Ondo State?

To be honest, I had no idea until I was told a few weeks ago. But it feels really good to achieve such a feat. And I don’t plan to stop here. There are many more to come, God willing.

Has the government in your state accorded you any recognition for this achievement?

No they haven’t. But I’m sure it’s no fault of theirs. They’re probably not aware of the achievement. I’m sure they would want to be a part of this success story.

Why did you have to relocate to South Africa?

To be honest, aviation schools in Nigeria are too expensive. The payment plan is not flexible enough. They have stringent requirements which can discourage the faint-hearted. Lastly, I can’t vouch for their national, much less international, recognition.

What was the feeling the first time you flew an aeroplane?

Flying as pilot-in-command for the first time was exhilarating, to say the least. It was all I ever dreamt it would be and more. It met and surpassed my expectations.

Did you feel you would achieve more being a pilot than being a lawyer?

Well, if I had pursued a career as a pilot rather than a lawyer, I would definitely be way ahead in my career by now. But I don’t for one second regret pursuing Law first. It might not have been my first love, but I also grew to love it. I’ve always believed in the importance of education and I’m eternally grateful to my mother for making me graduate from the university before going to aviation school.

My experience as a lawyer has made me grow and mature in a special way, and I still intend to acquire an LLM in Aviation Law in order to merge both fields of study and make it one. My goal is to one day be in a position to make great change in the aviation sector through, for example, implementation of laws. And my law degree will go a long way in helping me to achieve that.

Since you are based in South Africa, what are you doing at present?

I have just acquired my private pilot licence, so I’m currently working on my commercial pilot licence.

You look very young. Does this in anyway undermine your strength in the midst of male colleagues?

Wow! Thanks for the compliments. Well, looking young and being a woman always puts me at a disadvantage anywhere I go as would most women, particularly in such a male-dominated profession. It however does not slow me down or intimidate me. Rather, it fuels the motivation I need to prove my worth.

I came to South Africa with no formal or informal aviation background, but I was able to excel exceedingly in both theoretical and practical aspects. My exams were way above average, and I finished my practical in a record time. I was also awarded the best private pilot progress trophy. So I dare say I earned their respect.

What motivated or inspired you to take this path after your law degrees?

To be succinct, passion for aviation. Aviation has and will always be my first love. Before law was aviation. Even my final year project at the University where I bagged my Diploma in Law and Bachelor of Law degree was centered on the Fly Nigeria Bill. Information is power. Without it, we are lost. I was, unfortunately, ill-informed on the requirements for pursuing aviation and it slowly took the back burner while I pursued my law degree, which I do not regret for one second. I always felt a vacuum which my law degree could not fill.Everyone thought well, after Law School, she’ll probably get a job and let it go. That was however not the case. I drew up a plan with set goals and timelines, did proper research on all that was required and started saving up for the execution of my plan.

When I informed my mother, she was initially against it. I can’t say that I blame her though. I’m her only child. That is why I’ll be eternally grateful to Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) who succeeded in getting her on board. When the time for executing my plan came, I did, and the rest is history.

What barriers did you encounter and how did you break them?

First barrier: aviation is a very expensive dream, so funding posed and still poses a threat to my passion. But I didn’t and won’t let that stop me. I’m however lucky to have the most supportive mother who puts my needs before hers. After I had saved up to sort out things like the initial deposit required by the school, visa application processing fees and air ticket, my sweet mother parted with her valuables in order to raise funds for my private pilot training. I also got some financial help and support from well-wishers like Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), His Excellency Otunba Christopher Alao-Akala, Her Excellency Dame Bimbo Fashola, Uncle Adeleke Adefala, my sweet Aunty Magdalene Lasode, Aunty Fanni Aisien Osana and my surest Uncle Atunyota Alleluya Akpobome aka Alibaba.

•Akinfolarin being decorated when she qualified as a pilot

There was discouragement from people I thought could help with funding. Someone actually told me not to think of aviation but rather live a simple life and become a secondary school teacher, which I thought was hilarious. For the records, I have absolutely nothing against teachers, but it is just not my passion. Notwithstanding, I persevered and didn’t lose hope or faith in God. God’s favour has been endless and I cannot praise Him enough.

What is the most important lesson you have learnt so far?

With God, hard work and perseverance, the word ‘impossible’ does not exist.

Any plans to settle down soon?

If I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked this question, I’d be wealthy right now. Hopefully, sometime in the future.

You have only been referring to your mother. What about your father?

He is alive and well. Thank God.

Tell us about your background?

I am 29 years old, daughter of Mr. Collins Funsho and Mrs Gladys Nwabuaku Akinfolarin. I am from Ondo town, Ondo West Local Government Area, Ondo State. My mother is originally from Arondizuogu, Ide-Ato North Local Government Area, Imo State. I have a Diploma in Law, LLB, BL, private pilot licence and commercial pilot licence in the works. I love driving, swimming, playing tennis and watching movies. I’m passionate about Aviation and Law.

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