From Fiji Times Online (19 March 2018)

No desk for this girl

By Matilda Simmons

SHE knew from a young age that she would be a pilot and not be bound to some desk job.

Saele Fatiaki, who now plies her trade with Air Kiribati, said it was her fascination with planes that captured her imagination. Added to that was the influence from her next-door-neighbour — Fiji's very own late Captain Sakiusa Rokovucago, fondly known to her and her siblings as momo (uncle).

"It wasn't easy to follow this career path early on because as a woman in a male-dominated field there are a lot things that I needed to be able to put on hold and sacrifice in order to complete my flying and make it as far as my male colleagues," she said.

"The initial break into the industry is tough because you come out of flying school with minimum experience and the competition is stiff. You need to be prepared to go out of your comfort zone, pack a bag and jump whenever opportunity strikes, that's how I ended up in Kiribati," she said with a giggle.

Saele is one of two pilots from Fiji who are working in Kiribati. They fly on domestic routes in the tiny South Pacific Island country. It's a job she has grown to love.

"I hail from the beautiful island of Rotuma but was born and brought up in Suva. I come from a big family with four sisters and three brothers, one of whom is also a pilot with Kaibu in Fiji," she says.

The Rotuman lass completed her education at Saint Anne's School in Suva and Motusa District School in Rotuma and high school at Saint Joseph's Secondary School, Rotuma High School and Adi Cakobau School.

"I knew from a young age that I did not want to work a desk job," she said quietly. "So straight after high school, I went on to Pacific Flying School in Nadi where I did my flight training and obtained by comercial pilot's licence in 2010."

Getting into flying school was not the hard part. Saele described it was all the distractions that came that she had to push away while studying and continuing to persue the dream of flying commercially.

A few weeks ago, Saele and her Fijian co-pilot made history for Air Kiribati after they became the first all-female crew to man the plane. It was only into her first year of working in the airline industry there.

"Kiribati is beautiful. And hot! I have learnt a lot from living in Kiribati, mostly not to take things for granted," she said smiling. "The people here have so little compared to the most of the Pacific, in terms of basic resources, but they are very happy and content people."

So what's the best thing about her work?

"The view from the cockpit. It's just amazing, you can never get tired of it!" she said.

While she is far away in another country, Saele and her colleague have asked to have their condolences sent to the families of the late pilots Iliesa Tawalo and Merelesita Lutu who recently in a plane crash at Delaikoro on Vanua Levu.

" We were all deeply heartbroken to hear of the tragic incident where the two lost their lives," said Saele.

"To all the youth of Fiji, work hard at whatever career path you choose and never give up, no matter how long it may take for you to tackle your goals," she said with finality.

Saele Fatiaki & Friend
Saele Fatiaki, left, with fellow Fijian pilot Salote Mataitini
Picture: Supplied