30 April, 2003, JOHANNESBURG: South African Airways today bid farewell to one of its pilots who made history.
Captain Brenda Howett (52) was the first woman to be appointed as a pilot in the history of SAA. She was also the first female pilot to become a captain at SAA, and the only female Training Captain to date.
After a career with the airline spanning 20 years, Captain Howett commanded her last flight a Boeing 737-800, today from Cape Town, to Johannesburg International Airport.
“We are very proud of Brenda. She is an excellent trainer who played a role in the training of almost half of our pilot core.
“Her contribution to the aviation industry is immeasurable and set an example for many years to come. We wish her all the best with her future plans,” said Andre Viljoen, SAA President and CEO.
Brenda, who served as an Instructor on the Boeing 737-200 simulators, decided that she was going to take the option that pilots have to retire at 50. “It is now time to enjoy my retirement and spend time with my grandchildren. Although sad to be leaving my colleagues, I look forward to my new venture of starting a lodge on our game farm,” she said.
Captain Howett is also an International Aerobatic Judge and has represented South African Airways in this capacity on numerous occasions.
In April 2001 she was appointed as SAA`s first female Training Captain. Her responsibility, along with the team of instructors, was to ensure the effective training of all pilots assigned to the Boeing 737 fleet.
Brenda’s journey to this milestone has taken some interesting turns: “Initially I was a school teacher and it was in mid-career, as a wife with two children, that I started flying as a hobby,” she said.
It was through the encouragement of her husband Dev, a Springbok aerobatic pilot and businessman, that flying became her hobby.
Brenda had aspired her whole life to teach, but once the flying bug had bitten her she discovered that what she really wanted to do was to fly and impart her knowledge of flying to others: “I obtained my commercial pilot’s licence, and because my daughters were still very young I did an instructor’s rating so that I could teach at Rand Airport in the mornings while they were at school and be at home with them in the afternoons.”
It wasn’t long before SAA representatives approached Brenda and asked her to apply for the position of simulator instructor. She was appointed as an SAA Instructor on the Boeing 737 simulator in 1983. After five years of training SAA pilots, she herself was appointed as a pilot in this male-dominated environment. She received her command in 2001, at the same time that she became a grandmother. “A most exciting time for me,” she said.
Brenda is justifiably proud of SAA’s training section: “We have one of the best training sections in the world, and SAA pilots are in demand because they are so well trained,” she said.
SAA now has 17 women pilots and 750 male pilots.
For women contemplating flying as a career, she warns about the inherent challenges that face young women in this field: “It’s not without turbulence and they must understand that starting out from an early age, marrying and ultimately having children poses challenges. It is a different lifestyle and you need the support of a family, but if you believe in yourself, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it,” she added.
Brenda would like to see more woman pilots at SAA: “Flying, as a career for women, has become more accessible. Today the doors are open, in fact there are a number of daughters of SAA flight deck crew that are now becoming pilots,” she said.