SA female pilot, 24, living her dream - one TikTok at a time
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At a young age, Melissa, famously known as @pilot_onthegram on social media, wanted to pursue a career in aviation.
Most called her dream of becoming a pilot far-fetched, but for the 24-year-old from Joburg, the naysayers motivated her to work harder towards her aviation dream.
Now, the TikTok star, who has amassed over 700K on TikTok, is flying to some of the most exotic destinations. And working in a male-dominated industry hasn't stopped her from reaching for the sky.
Melissa is also an aircraft manager, a content creator and hosts a mentorship programme.
"From a young age, I had been interested in pursuing a career in aviation, and waking up every day being able to live a life that I could only dream about as a kid has been surreal," she said.
"I remember my first flight. It was from OR Tambo International Airport to Londolozi Game Reserve. It felt exciting yet nerve-racking at the same time. Despite the nerves, I couldn't contain my joy. I felt so thankful to have been able to get the opportunity to start this journey," she said.
Melissa's TikTok gives her followers a glimpse of her pilot life, from the flight deck and educational pilot videos.
She felt humbled by the positive feedback she received on social media.
Despite the glamorous lifestyle of a pilot, much hard work goes into flying, with the preparation needed before, during and after the trip.
"I have to arrive at work an hour before departure in order to prepare the aircraft and other important duties. Being on time is crucial in this field, and each day and flight is different. I can fly anything from two to six sectors (a take off and landing routing from one destination to the next). On some days, we come back home, and other days we layover in different destinations," she explained.
She said that she enjoys flying into game reserves.
"It is challenging flying," she admits. "Every strip is different, so lots of planning and preparation goes into those flights. They are extremely rewarding because each time you experience something new. I have had instances where I have seen giraffes run across the runway after we parked and shut down the aircraft," she said.
On her most memorable trip, she recalled it was on a flight to Vilankulos in Mozambique.
"The scenery was like nothing I had ever seen before, just breathtakingly beautiful."
She hopes to travel to the Maldives to escape South Africa's cold weather.
In the next five years, she aims to use her position to "reach, help, encourage and inspire more individuals to go after their dreams."
She has also set her sights on owning her own jet.
"Do not let people's opinions get to you. Continue to work hard, and you will be rewarded. Always remember that you are capable of achieving anything. Let your faith be bigger than your fear," she said.