Aisha Alexander:“Safety is the real foundation of Aviation.”
Captain Aisha Alexander holds an extraordinary passion for flying. Even at the early age of four years old, Captain Alexandra always knew that she wanted to become a pilot and has carved out an impressive career in aviation that would enthrall her younger self.
Today, she becomes the latest recipient of the AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award for her dedication to duty and her commitment to promoting aviation safety across the industry.
Captain Alexandra has worked in pilot and aviation management roles across charter, corporate and cargo flight operations. Her career highlights also include her experience as the designated pilot flying former First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton, and US Senator Mitt Romney, who was the Governor of Massachusetts at the time.
Recognized as an aviation safety advocate and as a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) ATP licensed pilot, Captain Alexander is a Boeing 777 pilot for Kalitta Air, an international cargo airline headquartered in Michigan, USA.
She has held positions in both pilot and management operations, including her role as an aviation safety manager and international captain for Coca-Cola. In 2020, Captain Alexander was appointed regional safety advocate for the International Civil Aviation Organization in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
It’s a formidable resume. So, what is driving her success in the aviation industry? For Captain Alexander, her commitment to a career in aviation, as well as her faith and her family, have made the journey possible.
“Being a mother is the engine of my life,” she says. “I had the example from my own mother when she raised me as a single parent and as a career woman. I look up to her. I want my son to look up to me. So, every step that I take is basically for him, too. I want to leave a good example, and to be a role model in his life.”
Born in Colombia, and into a family with no connection to the aviation industry, Captain Alexander recalls the event that became the catalyst for her pursuing an interest in aviation.
As a four-year-old child, Captain Alexander was on a flight with her mother when she became fascinated by what was going on in and outside the cabin. She declared: “Mom, when I grow up, I want to be driving one of these.”
In response, her mother nurtured her daughter’s passion and encouraged her to pursue a formal career as a base foundation for her pursuit of a future in aviation. After relocating to the United States, Captain Alexander gained a doctorate in law. In 1999, she became a director of human resources for Aerofloral cargo, a Colombian cargo airline based in Miami. Three years later, she took on the role of director of operations for the airline.
At the same time, Captain Alexander joined an American flight school as the only female pilot in her class.
She says: “I was working for Aerofloral in human resources, then I escalated the position in the company. At the same time, I was also accumulating my flight time and working toward my private instrument and commercial rating.”
Having completed her pilot courses with 1500 hours and an ATP pilots license, Captain Alexander admits that the road ahead was still difficult as she encountered the prejudice of being a female pilot while balancing her dreams of motherhood.
She adds: “When I finished, I had to make the decision to either become an instructor to accumulate hours or to join a regional airline and at the same time I was becoming a parent. So, I had to balance my passion and my family. It was a roller coaster, but I continued knocking on doors and trying to basically become my own agent to companies. It was very difficult, especially coming to some places where they would say ‘we don't hire women, maybe later on you can try to apply again’.”
Despite these obstacles, which included encountering resistance to her career progression and even verbal bullying, Captain Alexander claims that this only made her stronger and she has remained resolute in achieving her goal.
“I am a strong believer that what we do, and the places that we are in life, are independent from our gender, but are tied up with our qualifications and with the efforts that we put in,” she says. ‘’We are in an era of aviation where the more qualifications you have, the more competitive you are. Qualifications, risk and resilience are what will take you to where you want to be.”
Then, in 2003, she became the first Hispanic corporate pilot in the United States. While flying for private jet charter Sentient Jet, Captain Alexander became the designated pilot for former First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton, and US Senator Mitt Romney, who was the Governor of Massachusetts at the time.
She says: “It was a great experience, something very unique and special. It was also completely different, especially because I was new to corporate aviation.”
The highlight of that period of her career was receiving a gold coin with the seal of the state of Massachusetts from Mitt Romney as a token of his appreciation.
She adds: “I was very happy and proud to have been awarded with that symbol.”
Captain Alexander went on to fly in South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia Pacific with VIP charter organizations and world-leading airlines, such as Ethiopian Airlines and Etihad Airways. She also flew and worked in prestigious roles, including a term as an aviation safety manager and international captain for Coca-Cola. In 2020, she was also appointed regional safety advocate for the International Civil Aviation Organization.
A passion for aviation safety
“I believe everyone says safety is a priority,” says Captain Alexander. “But for me, safety is a value. It’s something that no-one has to teach you, it's something that you know is important. It's something that you know is the foundation of any career.”
Initially, when Captain Alexander started to look at the safety side of the aviation industry, there was no formal aviation safety education.
She explains: “I was looking at safety. I decided to study criminal law, not for the criminal aspects of it, but for the human factors that I could later tie with my law degree and focus on the human factors towards safety.”
Today, Captain Alexander is surprised by the opportunity to carve out a career in aviation safety.
She continues: “Safety is a value and that is what I embrace in the companies that I work for and what I want people to believe. Safety lies on each individual person. If I believe that safety is what rules my career and it is what is going to make this industry safer, then I have to start with making and doing my part.”
After accomplishing this on an individual level, Captain Alexander turned her attention to the companies she was working with and their executive managers.
She says: “I said let's help each person and equip them with the tools to allow them to report. But also, not punish them.”
Instead, she urged companies to “embrace the people who have those values”.
She adds: “For me, safety is the real foundation of aviation. Today, we are going far and beyond in talking about the priority and talking about regulation. But what are we really doing with the individual?
“What are we doing with every single pilot, every single cabin crew, every single ground-handling personnel? How are we helping these people to become an important and determined part of safety? That is my job, that's what I advocate for and that's what I do with passion. I hope that one day the industry will move from safety simply being a priority, to being a value.”
AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award
In recognition of her dedication and commitment to the aviation sector, for her perseverance and focus and for promoting aviation safety and playing a role as an aviation safety advocate, AeroTime CEO, Richard Stephenson OBE, was delighted to present Captain Alexander with a coveted AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award. Captain Alexander became the 22nd recipient of this award and joins the ranks of other aviation professionals from around the world being recognized for their dedication and inspirational work.
Stephenson says: “Aviation safety is such an important part and core of our industry. Our Global Executive Committee wanted to say a very big thank you for your unwavering commitment to promoting safety in the industry. We want to acknowledge your dedication and your perseverance, and we are certain that many others across the wider industry have been inspired by your journey, your passion and positive efforts towards aviation safety. I hope that this award will serve as a constant reminder to you of the gratitude of so many people for everything you've done in your career, and that we hope you will continue to do in the future.”
Captain Alexander says: “I can't thank you enough. This is a remarkable acknowledgement. The most important thing in life is people and what you can do for them, and, in some way, this award makes me feel like my sacrifices, and the ones of those around me, paid off. I'm fully committed until the end of this life, with God’s help and support, that I can make a difference to make aviation a safer place and a value for all of us. Thank you so much.”
“Almost anyone can learn to fly a balloon.” Beth Wright-Smith, Balloonist
Veteran Balloonist and Instructor Elizabeth Wright-Smith says it is nearly impossible to experience two of the same hot...
AeroTime Behind the Scenes | Afghanistan’s first all-female flight
Josh Cahill speaks to AeroTime about flying on Afghanistan’s first all-female flight and the Taliban threat that f...
“Accidental pilot” Erika Armstrong seeks to break down barriers
Pilot, author and teacher, Erika Armstrong is helping others make their way in the aviation industry. She has been recog...