SOARING into position as the youngest female Captain to be commissioned in Guyana within the last decade, is 22-year-old LeShaun Berkley, a young woman who literally reached for the skies.
After training as co-pilot for two years she was given her fourth gold stripe during a small ceremony at the Roriama Airways Limited on Monday.
The Pepperpot Magazine met up with this young woman who explained that the Captain or pilot-in-command has all responsibility for the aircraft, the safety of its passengers in the air as well as persons on the ground.
FLYING WAS MADE FOR ME
Although she now spends 20-30 hours a week in the air, LeShaun didn’t always want to be a part of the aviation industry but became interested after she graduated from high school at St. Stanislaus College.
“When I came out of school I thought of doing medicine but then when I started it wasn’t really something I liked, I didn’t really look forward to going to school every day to do that,” she said. “So, I sat down and I thought about it and I was like: ‘hmm, I love travelling and ever since I was young I always was fascinated by planes, I was never scared of planes’. So, it was then that it hit me: ‘you know what, let me try this thing, let me actually go see what it’s like’ and I kind of took a chance and I would say it was the best chance I took because I ended up falling in love with aviation.”
LeShaun, the eldest of two siblings, began Flight School in 2014 at Air Services Limited and later completed her studies at Dean International in Miami, Florida after which she joined the Roraima Airways team.
Telling of her experience abroad she said: “Flying there, it was a wonderful experience because I met persons from all around the world. It was a big flight school so you had people from the Middle East, people from all over so it was great [knowing] that I can say I have a friend in Egypt or I have a friend in Colombia.”
Throughout her robust training, she successfully met the criteria and acquired three licenses: the Private Pilot License (PPL); the Instrument Rating and Commercial Pilot License (CPL).
Despite several challenges along the way, LeShaun told the Pepperpot Magazine that she never gave up on her dream to work high among the clouds.
“Every time I go flying it’s like my mind is at ease. So, I feel like it was for me, it was something that was made for me,” she said.
Working with the Roraima Airways for the past two years, LeShaun says she gained a lot of flying experience which she expresses the highest of gratitude for receiving.
She spearheads both local and international flights and just last Monday, took her first command flight to Trinidad and to this experience she commented: “It was great! The weather was perfect, everything went smoothly.”
As many can attest, from the passenger’s seat of an aircraft it doesn’t seem like piloting is an easy task and, confirming this supposition, LeShaun says that much obligation comes along with the job.
“When you’re flying you have a lot of responsibility, it’s not just ‘Oh, I’m going to fly’. You have a lot of responsibility, you have your life, persons’ lives both in the air and on the ground so you have a lot of responsibility,” she explained.
Nonetheless, her number one supporters from day one have been her parents and although many of her friends were unaware she was about to receive the recent promotion, they are now all happy to see her excel.
“Actually, no one really knew about it, I didn’t really mention it to anyone so it came as a surprise to everyone…because I was just waiting for it to happen and be sure before I let the cat out the bag,” she said.
In her leisure time, she likes to hang out with her friends but also doesn’t mind staying at home just to relax.
EVEN BIGGER DREAMS AHEAD
The next checkpoint on LeShaun’s list of big dreams happens to be flying much larger planes which should see her advancing from the Britten-Norman Islander aircraft model to perhaps a Boeing aircraft.
“This is not the end of the road for me, this is just the beginning, it’s an achievement where it’s actually the first step to getting to where I eventually want to go which is to the airlines someday. So, I see this as my stepping stone,” she said.
Even in a field where males far outnumber females, the 22-year-old wants other young women to know that anything is possible should they put their minds to it.
“I think anything you want to do or any goal you plan to achieve you can do it. Because it is a male-dominated field, certain females might feel like ‘this is not for me’ but I say, whatever a male can do us females can do twice as better,” she said smiling.
In the midst of her encouragements, LaShaun added that more can be done locally to make opportunities like her’s readily available to Guyanese.
“Here in Guyana we don’t have that many flight schools and the one we have here, it’s ridiculously expensive so, that would be a barrier for a lot of people because they can’t afford it.
“So, I think there should be some system put in place where you can actually get to go to flight school at a cheaper cost or they should provide scholarships in order for persons to get that opportunity,” she advised.
Roraima Airways, where LeShaun works, was started by Guyana’s first female captain, Captain Debbie Gouveia and together with her husband Captain Gerald (Gerry) Gouveia (Snr.) founded the company in November 1992.
Thus far, coming out of the airline has been Guyana’s: first female captain, Captain Debbie Gouveia; youngest female pilot, First Officer Amber Low and youngest female captain within the decade, Captain LeShaun Berkley.