Ensuring the sky is no limit for young, would-be pilots

Mercy Makau’s love of flying and mentoring knows no bounds

In Summary

• After founding a club for young aviation enthusiasts in 2012, she has expanded her engagement to mentor women in the industry

Mercy Makau showcases her passion for recreational aviation activities like drones
Mercy Makau showcases her passion for recreational aviation activities like drones

It's a Tuesday morning at the Wildlife Club of Kenya, and members of the Young Aviators Club of Africa are deeply engrossed in the Jamhuri Day celebrations, broadcast on a television in the premises.

As soon as the military flypast begins, they excitedly gather outside to watch the display in the sky above. From the chatter, it is abundantly clear that they have a deep passion for flying, and for the country's air force.

Back inside, the youngsters settle down for their first session with their trainer, an expert from the aviation industry, who will coach and guide them towards their goal of becoming pilots.

The session has been organised by Mercy Makau, an aviation industry insider who has played a pivotal role in promoting recreational aviation in Kenya.

With more than 15 years of experience in the industry, Makau is also a passionate advocate for gender equity in the aviation and aerospace industry. She has successfully established a social enterprise that provides an enabling environment for the youth, while focusing on human capacity building and gender equity.

“I advocate for advanced air mobility, reliable, quality and affordable aviation training locally,” Makau said.

“We build capacity for youths by providing an enabling environment and linkage under an age-relevant, progressive program from ages 4 to 27. Our core values are founded around passion, practice and excellence.”

Makau possesses certifications and licences, including a remote pilot's licence, from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and other institutions.

Driven by a vision to empower young Africans, Makau founded the Young Aviators Club of Africa (YACAfrica) in 2012.

Today, the vibrant community boasts of more than 60,000 members aged from 4 to 27. While aiming to ignite young minds with a passion for aviation, Yacafrica also fosters a culture of excellence through mentorship, STEM education and engaging activities.

“My dream is to see the African youth gainfully employed in the aviation sector in Africa because the future is Africa; Africa is the youth,” she said.

The club also recommends that young people volunteer with aviation companies to gain experience, said John Apostle, who joined the club in 2019.

He said Yacafrica brings together aviation enthusiasts of all ages, from young children to working professionals, he said.

“Our members actively volunteer at events, gaining valuable practical experience through collaboration with aviation companies,” Apostle said.

“This includes hands-on activities, such as luggage handling, flying and even recreational events. Through these diverse experiences, we gain a deeper understanding of how the aviation industry works and develop a strong network of connections within the field.”

Makau's dedication to the Young Aviators Club goes beyond theoretical education. She believes in practical learning experiences and opportunities to engage with industry experts, enabling young aviators to gain insight and build valuable connections.

“A surge in youth participation, increased enrollment in aviation courses, and growing representation from diverse backgrounds point towards a promising future for the industry,” she said.

“Strengthened high school programmes with qualified teachers and improved performance in national exams further demonstrate YACAfrica's commitment to excellence.

“Additionally, active participation in international conferences and recognition from prominent organisations like ICAO, KCAA and KAA highlight the club's impactful reach.”

Since 2019, Makau has served as the founder and chairperson of the Association of Women in Corporate and Business Aviation. Through this initiative, Mercy aims to provide a supportive network and create opportunities for women in traditionally male-dominated aviation and aerospace industries.

She organises mentorship programmes, networking events and training sessions under the leadership and has created a platform for women to connect, learn and excel in the industry.

Makau was nominated for the prestigious 2023 Hall of Fame Women in Emerging Aviation Technologies Awards, which celebrates innovators, mentors and leaders in the field.

She was previously recognised by the Africa Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and International Civil Aviation Organisation-East and Southern Africa Region.

Makau also serves as the chairperson of the Drone Club of Kenya and has significantly impacted recreational aviation club participation. Her dedication earned her a spot among 13 professionals nominated by the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) to review Kenya's Drone Regulations.

John Kuria, an aviation mentor and technical director, said Makau is an inspiration for young aviation enthusiasts.

“Mercy's passion for aviation is truly inspiring. She has worked tirelessly to overcome challenges and achieve her goals,” Kuria said.

“Her dedication to mentoring others is equally impressive. She has helped countless young people reach their full potential, both in the air and on the ground.”

For her part, Makau is determined to ensure that young Africans keep taking to the air.

"Those who dare hardly fail," she said. "I will continue flying in the uncharted skies."

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