Salote Mataitini is a young Pacific woman living her dreams.
At the age of seven, she visited the Space Museum in Washington DC, United States. She knew it then that she was meant for the skies.
This is what she has been doing for the last seven years, five of which she has been a captain for Air Kiribati’s twin otter.
The Air Kiribati twin otter flies through the group of islands six days a week. It is an important source of travel.
Ms Mataitini has eloquently documented her travel through pictures she posts on social media.
According to statistics only five per cent of all pilots are women and the number is even fewer in the Pacific.
But these numbers and traditional ideologies were not going to stop this young woman.
“I used to daydream that one day I’d be wearing the same uniform and flying planes. So I did my own research when I started high school, on the subjects I needed to take to follow this career path,” she said.
“My father once told me ‘The World is your oyster, lewa (girl in Fijian)’. So I applied to Air Kiribati. Kiribati offered me the opportunity when Fiji had so many graduate pilots waiting around for a flying job.”
Ms Mataitini was born in Fiji and after high school education, she decided to take a year off and join her family in Nairobi, Kenya where her father Ro Naulu Mataitini was working.
After her gap year in Kenya, she flew to Auckland, New Zealand where she studied at Ardmore Flying School for three years and graduated with a NZ commercial pilots licence.
“I came back to Fiji and converted my license to a Fiji Pilots Licence. While waiting for a flying job in Fiji, I got a temporary job as a rental car sales executive at Nadi International Airport,” she said.
This was until Ms Mataitini was able to secure employment as a pilot.
“Most people see pilots and they just assume we’ve all had it easy. Just like any career, we’ve all had to study hard and persevere to get to where we are. You just need to focus on your end goal and where you want to be. Never lose hope,” she said.
“This is my seventh year in Kiribati and my fifth as a captain on the twin otter. This position carries a lot of responsibility because when I am in that cockpit, I am in charge of the safety of the crew, aircraft, passengers and cargo. Our main goal is to fly them safely from departure to destination.”
Ms Mataitini said Kiribati is an amazing place to be and every journey is better than the last. She said she is motivated everyday by her colleagues who work hard to ensure that they are able to serve the people of Kiribati.
She believes that she can also inspire young women from the Pacific to become pilots and look past the traditional mindset that it is a man’s job .
“Being a pilot has nothing to do with gender. It all comes down to hard work, studying hard in flying school, getting those hours, perfecting your flying skills before your final check ride so you can graduate and make your family proud,” she said.
“Once you get that flying job, you have to have the passion not only to fly but you also have to have the passion of serving people. Only then will you truly enjoy your work as a pilot.”