Meet Captain Irene Koki Mutungi: The First Female Pilot in Kenya

Captain Irene Koki Mutungi

In 1995, Captain Irene Koki Mutungi joined Kenya Airways as a second officer flying Fokker 50s, she became the first female pilot in the airline’s history and the first female pilot in Kenya. Fast-forward to 2004, she became the first woman on the African continent to captain a commercial airplane, and the first African woman to captain a Boeing 787 aircraft “Dreamliner” aircraft in 2014.

Males predominate in the aviation sector. Only 5% of pilots are women, according to data from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots. The misconception that female pilots cannot balance the demands of both job and parenthood is a key contributor to this situation. Some women have overcome the cultural restrictions that prevent them from entering the aviation profession to get to the position of highly regarded pilots.

Around 1976, in Nairobi, Kenya, Captain Koki was born. Her parents are from Machakos’ Mbilini neighbourhood and are members of the Kamba tribe in Kenya. Kenya Airways Limited, the country’s flag carrier, employed Captain Koki’s father as a pilot. The Father of Captain Koki frequently brought his kids along when flying.

At the age of two, Captain Koki travelled on an aircraft for the first time. As she got older, she began to get interested in flying. Every time she flew with her father, she showed a desire to discover how the aircraft’s control system worked. Captain Koki preferred to play with airplane toys than dolls like other young girls.

Captain Koki frequently discussed her desire to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a pilot, whether at home or in school. But no one seems to have faith in her. Initially, her father was likewise opposed to her career. At the time, there were no female pilots in Kenya. Because society expected women to stay at home and care for their children, it was nearly forbidden for them to pursue careers as pilots. Captain Koki was adamant about following her ambition, therefore she opted to disregard the setbacks and pay attention to her inner guidance.

Captain Koki enrolled in the aviation program at Nairobi Wilson Airport after finishing her secondary schooling at Moi Girls High School in Nairobi. She received her maiden pilot’s license at the age of seventeen, making history by being the country of Kenya’s first female pilot. Nearing her sixteenth birthday, she took her maiden flight as a pilot. Later, she enrolled in an aviation program in Oklahoma City, where she studied to become a commercial pilot.

After moving back to Kenya in 1995, Captain Koki became the airline’s first female pilot. Captain Koki was the sole female pilot employed by Kenya Airways until 2001. She had difficulties at this time, such as passengers who lacked faith in her piloting skills. A customer refused to board her plane on her maiden commercial flight, saying he was not willing to put his life in danger by getting on a plane piloted by a woman.

In 2004, Captain Koki made history when she became the first woman in Africa to captain a commercial airplane. She achieved this when she commanded a Boeing 737 aircraft. In 2014, she also became the first African woman to captain a Boeing 787 aircraft.

The first father-daughter flight ever took place with Captain Koki at the controls. Before retiring, her father flew one more time. According to Captain Koki, piloting an airplane alongside her father still ranks as her proudest accomplishment.

At Kenya Airways, Captain Koki has served as a mentor to aspiring female pilots throughout the years. She encourages both young men and women to pursue piloting by visiting aviation schools. She has won several accolades because of her tenacity and diligence, including Forbes Africa’s Most Powerful Woman.