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January 23, 2019

Young man’s dream to fly takes him to the skies

THE SKY IS THE LIMIT: Skylink CEO Suleiman Hamud.
THE SKY IS THE LIMIT: Skylink CEO Suleiman Hamud.

Twenty-five year old Suleiman Amur Hamud beat all odds to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot and later on start a flying school. Aviation is widely viewed as an expensive career and few can afford the high training expenses associated with it.

But determined to be a pilot Hamud ignored discouraging talk by his career teacher in high school who told him the cost was too prohibitive and even added that he was too short to be a pilot.

Born and bred in Mombasa, Sule as he is fondly know by family is the first born in a family of five. He describes himself as "an above average student" who scored an A- in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams.

His former neighbour who was a pilot encouraged him to aggressively pursue piloting as a career as it pays well. "He encouraged me to visit Wilson Airport where I got facts about flying and that is the when I made up my mind to pursue the career," recounts Sule.

However he had to first overcome the hurdle that most aspiring pilots face; cost. "My mother didn’t have enough money, so she had to sell her car which was enough to take me through the private pilot license course," Sule says.

After completing his training at CMC Aviation, he joined Nairobi University for a Bachelor of Commerce degree for which he which he had qualified after his form four exams.

"I enrolled (for the degree) but had to work part time as a ground instructor to finance my commercial pilot license course," he said. A CPL course costs up to Sh2.4m.

"I finished my CPL in 2008 and by then, was halfway through with my degree. I shifted to the evening program and during the day worked as a ground instructor at CMC Aviation."

Sule recalls that the CEO of CMC was very impressed by his hard work and decided to sponsor his flying instructor course. He later worked at CMC Aviation as a deputy chief flying instructor and a chief ground instructor and was the only flying instructor in the country who taught both theory and practical, he explains.

By 2009, Sule had both his degree, CPL and Instructor's rating and a full time job. But despite these achievements, he was yet to fully convince his parents about his career choice. They were reluctant to let him pursue his dream job and discouraged him citing the 9/11 attacks.

“They told me Arabs would never be employed as pilots in this world and persuaded me to pursue my degree instead,” he says. After two years in employment and with the realisation of the high need of aviation services, Sule started Skylink Flying School in 2010 with other two directors David Sipoche and Dilip Kumar.

Sule said the main aim of starting the school was to make flying affordable and accessible to Kenyans. The young entrepreneur had also observed that aviation training standards in Kenya were quite low and that flying schools were using old aeroplanes for training. This were prone to frequent breakdowns leading to inefficiency in training.

Upon starting the school, Sule says the market response was quite promising due to their training approach which he says was totally different.

"We were counseling and guiding our students, helped them secure jobs and we also had proper structures and good parent relationship that helped us woo students," he said.

Today, the school boasts being one of the Approved Training Organization certified institutions in Kenya that is recognised internationally to offer piloting courses.

This is because of the modern generation three aircrafts which they use for training. "They consume less fuel and they break down less often.

"The institution has five aircrafts, two of which are owned by Skylink and three are leased. We have both high winged aircraft the Cessna 150, 152, 172 series and the low winged such as the Piper 28-140 series," said Sule.

He however feels that aviation currently lacks enough career guides to give students advice regarding relevant courses in the industry. “People are also very naive about flying and have different perceptions about flying like; you must possess a certain height and other physical attributes for you to qualify," he said.

Aviation, he points out, is a marketable career and airlines are always looking for pilots. However, he admits that the training costs remain hign and this is compunded by high fuel prices. A single aircraft, he estimates, consumes about 20-30 litres of fuel per hour.

Government fees charged at the airport are another big impediment to the industry according to Sule. "For every landing and parking, we pay $10, so you can imagine how much we spend anytime an aircraft lands on the ground especially when training students! Unfortunately, the aviation industry does not have a union body that can bargain for a cut in fuel prices and other charges," he notes.

 To beat the odds, Skylink has adopted an ingenious way of making flying lessons affordable. The school through a saving and partnership scheme with Kenya Commercial Bank helps students to start saving while in high school to help fund their training.

In addition, parents are also involved from the word go to put aside money that is added to the savings account of the future flying students.

When the money is pooled together in an account, Sule notes, it attracts massive interest which boosts the training fund kitty. "This programme will help many students who are aspiring to pursue aviation and cannot afford to pay lump sum," says the co-founder of Skylink.

The courses offered at Skylink are Private Pilot License and Commercial Pilot License. The private licence is for people who want to fly part time for recreation and leisure with no intentions of pursuing a flying career.

This is the foundation and the most important phase in any flying career according to Sule. Once one has a strong foundation, the Skylink head says, the rest of the licenses is building up on experience.

The minimum hours for PPL are 40 hours and the course is divided into flying practicals and grounds which cost Sh600,000 at the school.

The school which also offers cabin crew, foreign languages, flight dispatch and operations today boasts of having two pilots at Kenya Airways; aged 21 and 26. Five of its graduates are also at a reputable aviation firm Bluebird airlines which is the biggest cargo liner at Wilson and two at ALS.

Being a very young CEO, despite his over 3,500 flight hours, Sule says that most parents at first are not sure their chilldren are in the right hands and imagine he is less experienced. But with time, he says, they appreciate his work and most of them refer their sons and daughters to him for guidance and mentorship.

“I want to show the young ones that they can be successful provided they have a dream”, he says. Sule’s parting shot is that piloting is not about good grades, it’s about the passion to the art of flying and pure co-ordination. Research has shown that average students have better co-ordination than above average students he notes.

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