Taliban: first female pilot Af: the dream of an aviation school in “the land of the Taliban” may not take off

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MELBOURNE: Navigating the globe solo in a single-engine aircraft is a challenge even experienced pilots would balk. But hailing from one war-torn country and growing up as a refugee in another, 34-year-old Afghan-American Shaesta Waiz learned to overcome adversity from a young age. At 30, Waiz became the youngest woman to fly a single-engine aircraft solo around the world, with her home country among the pit stops she made during her 145-day stay in 2017. Au in recent months, memories of her trip – she gained the admiration of many as the Taliban sent threats – and concerns for her extended family kept Waiz from sleeping at night.
Years ago, she sent a letter to the Afghan government, asking to be put in touch with female pilots who could mentor her. “The government responded by saying that in the history of Afghanistan there has never been a certified female civilian pilot. I would be the first. It was the motivation I needed to really hold on, ”she said. “It hurts me when I think of Afghanistan,” said Waiz, who has another accomplishment under her belt – she is the first certified female civilian pilot of Afghan descent. After the withdrawal of US military forces, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August. Waiz said some of his family had fled to the United States while others were still stranded in Afghanistan. “The Taliban say women can study, but the situation appears to be quite different on the ground,” said Waiz, whose parents immigrated to the United States as refugees in 1987 during the Soviet war. “For many, history repeats itself,” she told TOI from California.
Waiz regretted that his dream of opening a Taliban-run aviation school in Afghanistan is unlikely to take off now. “After I came back in 2017, I tried several times to get the project started, but each time I was told it was not the right time because it was not safe for women to learn to fly outside of the military environment as there was no protection and they would become targets. The pilot’s visit in 2017 was not exempt from such risks either. The location of his speech had to be changed to a more secure television recording studio following threats from the Taliban. “That day 300 girls showed up and I thought they could teach me courage. Sadly, the country is not set up for these girls to be truly successful. Waiz’s aviation record is currently being contested by 19-year-old Belgian Zara Rutherford, who flies solo over the planet in a single-engine aircraft.


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