- Irene Koki Mutungi (born in 1976) was the first female pilot at the national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) and the only one for six years.
According to statistics by the International Air Transport Association, women get relatively few CEO, COO, or CFO roles at top 100 airlines. According to the International Society of Women Airline pilots, globally, women make approximately 5% of the pilots population.
When Irene Koki Mutungi began her career, there were even fewer female pilots at the time. Finding a female pilot was such a rarity those days that some were even skeptical of a woman’s ability to fly a plane. She even remembers in her first days, a passenger initially declined to fly with her as she was a woman.
“He said he was not a guinea pig to be flown by a woman,” recalled Irene.
The 46 year old pilot is an inspiration to many, especially the female gender. She was the first female pilot at the national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) and the only one for six years. Irene Koki scored another first by being the first female African Dreamliner Captain.
She also made it on the Forbes list of 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa 2014.
Today, KQ employs more than 30 women pilots, something that elates Captain Koki who previously stated that the carrier is one of the highest employers of women in the industry.
Roots in Flying
Irene’s father was also a pilot who worked for the same airline. Her desire to be a pilot was at first met by resistance from her father. Having been a pilot, he knew the demands and thought as a woman she would be unable to cope let alone raise her family.
It took both her persistence and the intervention of his friend Captain JM Riruani (the owner of Kenya School of Flying), for him to relent.
A father is neither an anchor to hold us back , nor a sail to take us there, but a guiding light whose love shows us the way ~ Anon. #HappyFathersDay Daddy and all the amazing dads ♥️ pic.twitter.com/Koev1qg7J9
— Irene Koki Mutungi (@ms_koki) June 20, 2021
Captain Koki Mutungi was born in 1976 and attended Moi Girls School, Nairobi.
The bug to fly bit her when she accompanied her father on a trip to London. Seated in the cockpit, she knew flying was what she wanted to do.
“I remember having flown with my father in London when I was eight years old and I was sitting with him in the cockpit the entire route. Since then, I knew that is what I wanted to do.”
At the age of 17, she began flight training at the Kenya School of Flying and completed at Crabtree Aviation in Oklahoma, US.
Joining Kenya Airways
Irene joined Kenya Airways in 1995 as a second officer flying Fokker 50s and at the time became its first ever female pilot.
In 2004, she was the first African woman to qualify to captain a commercial aircraft.
In 2005, she was part of the very first all-female flight crew. This was a huge milestone back in the day when flight crews in the country had to include males.
“It was a huge milestone from an airline in a third world country. I was proud to have had the opportunity to command that flight,” she said of the fete.
The captain is type rated on a number of aircrafts including Cessna C150, C172, Piper PA28, C310, C402, Fokker 50, Boeing 737, 767 and 787. In 2014, she transitioned to the B787 and was promoted to captain of the Dreamliner. The Dreamliner is the most sophisticated commercial airliner.
Honors and Awards
Akwaaba – Africa Travel Award (2009 and 2014).
Women4Africa Award 2014
Business Daily Top 40 under 49 Women
Winner 2017 Africa Top Travel 100 Women by the Ministry of Tourism.