This month saw the completion of a new world record, as pilot Shaesta Waiz became the youngest woman to complete a solo round-the-world flight in a single-engine aircraft. The flight was part of a wider campaign to inspire the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students and aviation professionals and to encourage more women to consider careers in aerospace. BILL READ FRAeS reports
On 4 October, a new world record was made when 30-year old female pilot Shaesta Waiz landed at Daytona Beach in Florida. Since May, Waiz has flown nearly 25,000nm and visited over 20 countries as part of a project to inspire the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students and aviation professionals. With her mission completed, she is now the youngest woman to complete a solo round-the-world flight in a single-engine aircraft.
The record-breaking flight was conducted by the Dreams Soar campaign to attract the best and brightest young people into air transport careers. Dreams Soar is part of the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP) programme, supported by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In addition to developing a new 21st century aviation workforce, Dreams Soar is also supporting other UN Sustainable Development Goals, which include gender equality and ensuring access for world youth to inclusive and quality education.
“ICAO has been honoured to be a main Dreams Soar supporter throughout Shaesta’s campaign and we have been very grateful for this unique opportunity to help her inspire so many young, enthusiastic women and girls,” commented ICAO’s current and first female Secretary General, Dr Fang Liu. “Aviation needs hundreds of thousands of pilots and other skilled professionals in the years ahead and Dreams Soar has provided a huge boost to ICAO’s efforts to bring this important message to young people all over the world.”
Born in a refugee camp in Afghanistan, Shaesta Waiz travelled with her family from Afghanistan to Richmond, California in 1987 to escape the Soviet-Afghan war. She also holds the record for being the first female certified civilian pilot from Afghanistan. She studied at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she became the first certified civilian female pilot from Afghanistan and the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree. In 2011, during her time at Embry-Riddle, Shaesta founded the Women’s Ambassador Program — an initiative to mentor and support young women pursuing an education in aviation and engineering. In under three years the programme helped increase female enrolment from 13 to 22%. In 2014 Waiz started the nonprofit organisation Dreams Soar with a mission to encourage more women to pursue STEM and aviation-related degrees.
During the record-breaking flight Shaesta flew a single-engine piston 2001 Beechcraft Bonanza A36. The aircraft was equipped with additional equipment, including weather-detecting systems, additional fuel tanks, long range navigation systems, survival equipment and a portable oxygen system. The aircraft has a range of 2,800nm (5,186km) and a maximum speed of 176kt (326km/h).
Over the course of 4.5 months, Shaesta flew 24,816nm with 176 hours of flight time. Her route including 30 stops to destinations in 22 countries.
- Daytona Beach, Florida - Columbus, Ohio (699nm)
- Columbus, Ohio - Montréal, Canada (473nm)
- Montréal, Canada - Halifax, Canada (458nm)
- Halifax, Canada - St Johns, Canada (477nm)
- St Johns, Canada - Santa Maria, Portugal (1,822nm)
- Santa Maria, Portugal - Madrid, Spain (1,086nm)
- Madrid, Spain- Cagliari, Italy (705nm)
- Cagliari, Italy - Athens, Greece (792nm)
- Athens, Greece - Cairo, Egypt (622nm)
- Cairo, Egypt - Manama, Bahrain (1,166nm)
- Manama, Bahrain - Dubai, UAE (314nm)
- Dubai, UAE - Muscat, Oman (204nm)
- Muscat, Oman - Mangalore, India (1,187nm)
- Mangalore, India - Columbo, Sri Lanka (522 nm)
- Columbo, Sri Lanka - Phuket, Thailand (1,175 nm)
- Phuket, Thailand - Seletar, Singapore (592 nm)
- Seletar, Singapore - Bali, Indonesia (944 nm)
- Bali, Indonesia - Darwin, Australia (965 nm)
- Darwin, Australia - Cairns, Australia (916nm)
- Cairns, Australia - Noumea, New Caledonia (1,246nm)
- Noumea, New Caledonia - Nadi, Fiji (692nm)
- Nadi, Fiji - Pago Pago, American Samoa (713nm)
- Pago Pago, American Samoa - Christmas Island, Kiribati (1,246nm)
- Christmas Island, Kiribati - Honolulu, Hawaii (1,331nm)
- Honolulu, Hawaii - Hayward, California (2,119nm)
- Hayward, California - Phoenix, Arizona (632nm)
- Phoenix, Arizona - Austin, Texas (816nm)
- Austin, Texas - Baton Rouge, Louisiana (346nm)
- Baton Rouge, Louisiana - Daytona Beach, Florida (558nm)
However, the flight was about a lot more than achieving a new world record. During the 30 stops during the Dreams Soar mission, Shaesta participated in 32 outreach events for over 3,000 young people featuring different national and international companies and organisations to promote the promote the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education with a particular focus on inspiring young women to consider a career in aviation. One of the aims of the project is to increase the percentage of female pilots working around the world, which is currently at very low levels. According to figures from the Teaching Women to Fly Research Project, only 6% of US GA pilots are women, 7% are new US private pilots and only 4% work as airline pilots worldwide.
In addition to talks from Shaesta, the events also included presentations from other women to present strong female role models. In June, Shaesta was in the UK where she visited a number of schools and attended a corporate outreach event facilitated by Jet Support Services’ (JSSI) Farnborough office. One of the UK Dream Soar outreach co-ordinators is Rosalind Azouzi, Head of Skills and Careers at the RAeS.
Shaesta’s outreach work continues. In November she is to be a special guest speaker at ICAO’s inaugural NGAP Global Summit to be held at ICAO’s HQ in Montréal.