Natalia Rojas is about to graduate as a private pilot and from the Air Transportation Management career.
By Katherine Estrada Tellez (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – It is noon and Natalia Rojas, after her telework in customer service for Amazon, is getting ready for the practical aviation classes she takes once or twice a week at Tobias Bolanos Airport, in San Jose, Costa Rica. She wears her uniform, dark blue pants with a white short-sleeve shirt with the insignia of the Costa Rican Aviation School and her “pilot wings,” the silver badge in the shape of airplane wings that is used in the profession.
Rojas is a 22-year-old Nicaragua woman who lived in Ticuantepe, Managua. She emigrated almost four years ago to the neighboring country to the south and is now about to graduate as a private pilot. “Since I was a little girl, I remember that every time airplanes passed over, I was like ‘Aaah…! (admiring) and saying: ‘look how beautiful,” said Rojas. The feeling caused on her by planes marked her so much that she began to dream of becoming a pilot.
Yes, just dreaming, because living in Nicaragua the idea of becoming a pilot seemed unrealistic, commented Rojas. “First, because of the economic situation; second, because there were no viable options (study centers),” she says. By 2017, she started a civil engineering degree at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), but in 2018 she had to drop out and leave the country. “In fact, I never really felt it was my thing. I didn’t feel identified with the field,” Rojas mentions.
The socio-political crisis of 2018 directly affected thousands of Nicaraguan families, forcing many people to emigrate for security reasons. “I am the youngest of two sisters. I had always lived with my parents, leaving them, and coming to Costa Rica alone affected me quite a bit,” she relates.
Getting closer to her dream
Amid the feeling that surfaced with the migration, Rojas, who was 18 when she arrived in Costa Rica, decided to focus on making her dream come true: “I am going to study aviation,” she told herself. Her aunt, a flight attendant by profession and a Costa Rican resident, encouraged her to make the decision.
She sought a job that would allow her to cover her expenses, researched options and began studying. Initially, a bachelor’s degree in Air Transportation Management at the Universidad Autonoma de Centroamerica, UACA.
“I started first with this as a higher technician so that I could have a chance to work,” she explained. Then she found the Costa Rican School of Aviation (ECDEA), where she began studying to become a private pilot. “From the first time I contacted them, they invited me to take a tour of the facilities. They showed me the airplanes and told me about the whole process of the career,” she commented in appreciation.
The Flight School has been the guide to get her on track to her goal. She is just a few practical classes away from finishing her degree, and every time she flies, she is convinced that the sky is her workspace. “I feel a lot of emotions, but I try to stay calm and control them, because I know the responsibility I have in my hands,” she explains.
Flying, “an act of empowerment”
“Flying is an act of empowerment for me,” Rojas assures, because getting to this point in her studies has involved a lot of work, commitment, and discipline.
The ECDEA flight school that has been training professional pilots for 28 years and, since then, around 30 women have graduated, three of them Nicaraguan nationals.
Rojas is the only woman in her class. “We are breaking the myth that women can only be cabin crew members,” she affirms. In Nicaragua it is unusual to hear that a woman would want to be a pilot, she mentions, here it is more common, because there are more options, and at the same time she motivates those interested to research and be encouraged to study this profession.
She commented that her former classmates in Nicaragua are surprised to see her studying what in the past was only contemplated as a fantasy. “They tell me: ‘Naty, you did it” and I realize that you can be where you project yourself, no matter what nationality you are, if you are a man or a woman, you can accomplish whatever you want,” she advises.
Being a private pilot is just one of several steps in the profession. She wants to be a commercial pilot and work for Emirates, the largest airline in the Middle East, and become a captain or their first woman pilot to fly, the highest-ranking position in the cabin crew. “It takes a lot of effort, a lot of flying hours, working with several companies and moving up the ranks, make progress. I think dreaming is power,” she concludes.