Sibongile Sambo is a pioneering woman of South African aviation. She is founder and Chief Executive Officer of SRS Aviation Ltd., the first 100 percent black, female-owned aviation services company in South Africa. This week, CNN’s African Start-Up featured this pioneering woman entrepreneur whose love for flying has paved the way to a successful private aviation business.
When Sibongile Sambo founded SRS Aviation in 2004, she had little collateral. Now, her Johannesburg-based company provides personalised aviation services including helicopter flights and tourist and VIP charters to destinations including the United States and Germany.
Sibongile tells African Start-Up: “What I’m proud of about our company is that we have managed to penetrate the male-dominated industry. On average we do 10 charters per annum, and that varies. It could be a tourist charter for $1 000 (R16 084,10) or could be a head of state travelling on a VVIP aircraft to the US, which could be about $200 000 (R3,2 million).”
Sambo currently employs three full-time staff and has partnered with a well-established company, MCC Aviation. The arrangement provides her with access to aircraft as well as to technical and operational support.
“I have a philosophy that I’m where I am today because somebody invested in me. It’s my opportunity now to invest other people,” she says."
The company’s growth hasn’t come without challenges, as Sambo explains: “Getting to learn the language, you know alpha, bravo, oscar, it was a challenge but we managed to get over it.”
According to Sambo, high operational costs make it essential for SRS Aviation to keep overheads low in an industry known for razor-thin margins. Despite some turbulent times, the company has managed to stay airborne and is working to bolster business by supplying parts and components to other companies and expanding their helicopter service.
Sambo reveals that she also invests in her staff and has helped three employees obtain their private pilot licenses. “I have a philosophy that I’m where I am today because somebody invested in me. It’s my opportunity now to invest other people,” she says.
She also hopes her work in aviation can help pave the way for a new generation of black South African women entering the industry. Looking ahead, Sambo sees greater autonomy for her company, as well as continent-wide growth and expansion.
“The sky is not even a limit for us. Aviation is growing in Africa. We are going to grow with the growth in Africa,” she says.
More about Sibongile Sambo
Sibongile Sambo is a pioneering woman of South African aviation. She is founder and Chief Executive Officer of SRS Aviation Ltd., the first 100 percent black, female-owned aviation services company in South Africa. Launched in 2004, SRS is an integrated provider of private aviation services offering South African and international clients professional and personalized flight options including VIP Charter, tourist charter and helicopter services, to destinations around the world. Today, the company also provides maintenance, sales and fleet management services to private jet owners.
Sibongile's pioneering entrepreneurial spirit has earned her a string of accolades and awards. She is also is passionate about mentoring young women, helping them become pilots, leaders and entrepreneurs.