She wanted to accomplish something that would make her stand out from a young age. She aspired to be an athlete since she was a child.
Almost everyone in her class wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor, but she chose to be a pilot to distinguish herself apart from her peers.
At first, it was a pleasant dream for her.
“In the beginning, it was just saying something big close to being a doctor or a lawyer. I was nine years old and in class four, and there is this frequent question society would always want to know what you want to be in future, and then I just had to say a pilot. And then again, in the beginning, I was really quiet. So I thought for a pilot you have to be in the cockpit and probably the passengers would just be behind you so you keep quiet, but during my flight training, you really talk a lot.”
“I also wanted to be different, because when they call doctors in class there were a lot of people that are standing up; lawyers as well. And when I stand in class, they are like wow, and it’s like the wow thing kept me moving.”
Audrey Maame Esi Swatson has realized her dream, and at the age of 21, she is Ghana’s youngest female pilot.
On the eve of Christmas 2018, she received her commercial pilot’s license, a milestone she claims made her Christmas special.
Maame Esi, the first of four children, had her primary and secondary education at the University of Ghana basic school in Legon, before attending the Ghana Christian International High School in Dodowa, where she majored in General Science.
Not everyone was supportive of her aim of becoming a pilot, as most people considered it was a risky job to pursue, but with the help of her parents, she was able to realize her ambition.
“My nuclear family was very supportive. Growing up they had seen what I was able to do and what I was not able to do as well. Extended family, they are not so close so hearing that I want to fly, they questioned my parents if they were going to allow me to do what I want to do. My dad doesn’t listen to negative vibes like that. He’d ask me time and time if this is what I want to do and over and over again I said yes.”
Audrey believes that the Ghanaian school system is not set up to accommodate students who want to pursue a career in aviation.
“Towards aviation, the system here in Ghana is not friendly. It limits your option as to who you want to be. The system doesn’t support your dream if you want to be a pilot because it is extremely expensive. It’s easy to train the doctors and other professions but to be a pilot, it is tough.”
She persevered with persistence and hard effort, and on April 4, 2016, she flew solo for the first time. She received her private pilot’s certificate the same year.
“My first solo flight was overwhelming because I didn’t see it coming. To go solo, you’re required to take off and land on your own, and it’s more like flying in a rectangle shape. I realized my flight instructor wasn’t on board and it scared me. I’m fancy, so I’m like is this me, and then just before I landed again, I got scared that it’s going to be my first time doing this with no one on board. It made me feel fulfilled.”
Ms Swatson flew 210 hours from the time she started school until she got her commercial license, which is 10 hours more than the minimum required hours to get a commercial license.
Audrey intends to become an airline pilot after obtaining her commercial license, with the ultimate goal of becoming a captain and flying the Airbus A380 one day.
She has gotten offers from a number of airlines and hopes to make a decision shortly.
“I like to be in an environment where everything is planned. I don’t find myself in other aviation occupations. I’d be much more comfortable in the airlines.”
Audrey feels Ghana’s aviation business is expanding, and she is hopeful that the acquisition of a national carrier would provide possibilities for those already working in the field, and that passengers will be happy to board an airline “made in Ghana.”
Her hardships in getting to where she is led her to start the Excel Aviation Company, which aims to empower women, particularly those who want to work in the aviation industry.
“When people think of aviation, they think you want to be a pilot or cabin crew, but there are other aviation professions. We want to move from schools to schools to talk to them about aviation, and empower them to be what they want to be.”