Multiple Airlines Rejected Her as a Flight Attendant So She Started Her Own Aviation Company

When Sibongile Sambo was a little girl she would stop and watch the airplanes fly overhead as she played in the streets of her hometown, Bushbuckridge, South Africa.

She dreamt that someday, she would fly too.

She decided to pursue a career in aviation. However, after being rejected by multiple airlines for not measuring up, literally — she was too short to be a flight attendant — it seemed like it wasn’t meant to be.

But rather than give up, she dug in. And her dream? Took flight.

Today she is the founder and CEO of SRS (Sibongile Rejoice Sambo) Aviation and made history doing it.

Sibongile Sambo Flies Into the History Books

Sambo is used to hearing the word “No.” She doesn’t let it stop her. After failing her first year of University in Accounting, her advisors begged her to switch to nursing or teaching. Sambo refused.

“I said I’d rather stay at home if that was the case. Then I decided to register in a B.Admin in industrial psychology and political science,” she told eNCA.

She aced her classes, graduated, and worked in Human Resources for seven years. But she wasn’t happy and still, in the back of her mind was that desire to pursue her passion.

In 2004, she finally decided to go for it. She quit her job and bid on a contract supplying cargo transport for the South African government. There was just one not-so-minor catch. She needed an airplane.

Despite having zero experience in aviation and no collateral, she refused to be grounded.

Rejected by financiers, she sold her house and car and used her mother’s and aunt’s pensions to buy a Russian plane.

“I never thought about losing,” she said of risking it all. “For me, this was the beginning of a winning game…I was just fired up with passion seeing this dream becoming a reality.”

“That voice inside me, that spiritual voice that says ‘You will make it,’ that is what I listened to.”
Sibongile Sambo

The voice was right. Against overwhelming odds, Sambo bought the plane for $800,000, managed to obtain an Air Operating Certificate from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), AND won the government contract.

The Sky’s the Limit

Breaking into the male-dominated industry has been a turbulent ride. But not only did Sambo break into the industry, she broke the glass ceiling.

SRS Aviation is “the first, and only, fully empowered, Black women-owned and operated airborne services business in South Africa,” according to its website.

The company offers professional and personalized flight options including VIP charter, air cargo charter, tourist transfers, medical evacuations, aerial photography, and general air security services.

Additionally, it is also the African distributor of new and overhauled aircraft spare parts for the commercial, commuter, corporate, Military, and Cargo Aerospace Industries. And in 2020, it inherited a technical training school.

In recognition of her impressive achievements, Sambo has scored multiple awards over the years, including the Black Woman in Business Awards, Impumelelo Top Female Entrepreneur of the Year, and she was also named a “Leader of Tomorrow” by Fortune Magazine.

And Sambo is nowhere done yet. The entrepreneur, international speaker, and Fortune 500 mentor continues to chart new heights and recently graduated with her MBA from the University of Pretoria.

See Your Own Dreams Take Flight

Beyond her professional accomplishments, Sambo remains deeply committed to empowering women in aviation.

As a staunch advocate for gender equality, she has championed initiatives aimed at increasing female representation in the industry and she has helped numerous women get their pilot licenses.

For any other little girl looking to the skies, or to anyone dreaming big, Sambo has this advice:

“I would say to that little girl, ‘My young girl, the sky is not even the limit, you can do it. If you have a dream don’t let it die. Keep the spirit going. Keep that dream alive. Do something about it, don’t procrastinate, don’t sit back.’”

“Don’t listen to those negative voices that will tell you that you can’t make it. If somebody tells you you can’t do it, tell them that I can. You can reach the skies, you can reach your goals and go for it.”
Sibongile Sambo

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