Island girl

Tonga’s first female airline pilot – Island Girl to Airline Pilot: A story of love, sacrifice and taking flight

This is the life story of Silva Mcleod, the first Tongan woman to become an airline pilot. She’s still one of only a handful.

Told by Silva with frankness and wit, it’s quite a story. Silva takes us on a journey of cultural change from her beginnings as a poor island girl to her marriage to an Australian.

The challenges of pursuing a flying career and its impact on her family are set against the backdrop of the love story of her life with her husband and his battle with cancer.

Silva faced challenges in Australia as a woman of colour. Then came the biggest challenge of all — Ken was diagnosed with cancer. He said to Silva, ‘Do you still want to fly? Life is too short, if you have a dream, go for it.’

There were many barriers to succeeding in such a male-dominated field, but Silva refused to give in. She became the first Tongan female airline pilot and worked for the Royal Flying Doctor Service amongst other small airlines then Virgin International, flying B777s around the world.

With every new height Silva reached in her career, Ken’s struggle with cancer continued. Despite the hardships, Silva is sure she would dare to do it all over again. Dare to love a white man and dare to pursue her dream to go from island girl to airline pilot.

At age 37, she became a full-time pilot for Royal Tongan Airlines. She now works for Virgin Australia.

 

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