In November, Seychelles’ aviation community and Seychelles as a Nation mourned the loss of Nicole Chang-Leng, the first Seychellois woman flight captain, who passed away, aged 45. She was an inspiration for many women and young girls. Nicole dreamt of being a pilot, and she lived that dream. She made us believe in the value of our dreams. And no doubt, Seychelles lost an amazing woman and role model. She captained the National airline and served her country with pride. Nicole became part of the history of women in aviation-a trailblazer; she was determined to take a profession that no woman in Seychelles dared do at that time.
In an interview in 2011, when asked who influenced her career choice, Nicole said, “It’s amazing because I didn’t have anyone influencing me to join aviation at all. I went to boarding school in the UK, and my teachers there all wanted me to study medicine at University College London. So, no one helped at all. It was just something I wanted to do, and I knew I could do it. So, eventually, I did. At first, my mum didn’t believe I could do something like this, and she only fully realised that I had achieved something quite special when I got my command of the Boeing 767 after ten years of flying! It was only then that I think she finally breathed a sigh of relief!”
Nicole joined Air Seychelles, the national carrier, in 1997 as a co-pilot on the Twin Otter plane following her aviation training in South Africa. She became a Twin Otter pilot in 1999.
In 2001, she was transferred to international flight operations, where she joined as First Officer on the B767 and completed her initial training and type rating in Miami, United States. After taking time off to become a mum to Harry, Nicole once again resumed her career climb, earning her airline transport license in 2006 and completing the Boeing 767 command training in early 2007.
Nicole credited her male colleagues who were behind her once they recognised her determination. “Once I joined domestic, the Air Seychelles pilots influenced me a lot and said, ‘Yes, you can do it. You will do it. We’ll help you study. Here are the books that you need to study from.’ So it was (they) who really, really pushed me on. So if I had to say I have any brothers, it would be my male colleagues because they have looked after me.”
Her incredible achievement was in the spotlight when she became the first woman to command an all-female flight crew as commander on a Seychelles-Mauritius flight on the 23rd of August, 2007, and was the first Seychellois woman to captain Air Seychelles’ B767 jets. During that flight, Nicole commanded the all-female crew with 239 passengers and three infants on board. Her First Officer on the day was her friend Lishad, and Nicole later said that her all-female crew were as well-trained as men to handle any situation that might arise, including security. And three years later, on the 8th of March 2010, to celebrate International women’s day, Captain Nicole Chang-Leng took command of another all-female crew flight from Paris Charles De Gaulle to Mahe, Seychelles.
On the 10th of November, Captain Nicole Chang-Leng was laid to rest by fellow Air Seychelles Captains. In honour of her legacy and remarkable career, Air Seychelles performed an honorary fly-over salute using the same aircraft she collected for delivery at the Airbus factory in Hamburg, Germany. A Nation’s heart was broken. Captain Chang-Leng was a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother, and Seychelles mourned with her family.
Captain Nicole Chang Leng paved the way for women in the aviation field in Seychelles, and her contribution and service to her country will be remembered.
Photo credit: Air Seychelles and Seychelles Nation