With the stigma and snickers of going into a male-dominated industry, Irene Koki Mutungi never relented. Even when her dad initially wasn’t thrilled that she followed in his footsteps, she remained persistent.
By following her gut, she became the first female pilot and first female African Boeing 787 captain. This way, the 1976 Kenyan-born and raised pilot created her narrative in the country.
The making of Irene Koki Mutungi
Irene Koki Mutungi’s story can be likened to the saying that the apple does not fall far from the tree. Observing her father, a commercial pilot with Kenya Airways, she developed a passion for the aviation industry.
With this self-discovery at the age of five, she worked towards realising her passion. In 1992, she graduated from Moi Girls School, Nairobi. After high school, she decided to attend flying school. This was, however, without some hiccups from her father.
Mutungi’s father believes that a pilot’s lifestyle is incompatible with the societal expectations of women. She said, “It took my persistence and convincing from his friend Capt. J.M Ririani, who owns the Kenya School of Flying, to let me give it a shot. The rest, as we say, is history”.
After that, she enrolled in Nairobi’s Wilson Airport flying school at the age of 17. There, she earned her Private Pilot’s Licence.
With a mission to be the best at what she loves and does, she travelled to the United States of America to continue her studies. Mutungi attended Crabtree Aviation, Guthrie, Oklahoma, U.S.A. She earned her Commercial Pilot’s Licence from the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S.A.
In 1995, Mutungi returned to Kenya and started working at Kenya Airways. During this period, she was the only female pilot in the industry for six years.
In an interview with Flight Safety, she said, “ I did not notice that I was the lone ranger as I had become one of the boys, and I guess it was also focused on work and just getting work done. It ceases to be about your gender and more about your expertise and technical abilities”.
Living her dreams
Since Irene Koki Mutungi started working at the same airline her father retired, she has been breaking records. In 2004, she became the first African woman to qualify to captain a commercial aircraft.
She later qualified to command the Boeing 737 and Boeing 767. Mutungi proceeded to take the conversion course for Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This transitioned her to command Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
In 2014, she was promoted to Captain of the B787. Mutungi became the first African female Boeing 787 Captain in the world. The same year, she was listed on Forbes Magazine’s “The 20 Youngest Power Women In Africa 2014”.
Apart from the Boeings, she is also an expert on the Cessna C150, C172, Piper PA28, C310, C402, and Fokker 50.