Pioneer High School: where students defy gravity - safely

It was jubilation as 12 students from the Pioneer High School in Murang’a County got their pilots’ licences - the Private Pilot Licences (PPLs) - even before their Kenya Certificate of Secondary School (KCSE) examination results were out. Seven of them obtained Grade A in the 2011 KCSE exams. The young pilots interviewed by the Metro at the time said their ultimate goal was to get the highest commercial licence.

The CPL is followed by the Multi-Engine Instrument Ratings (MIR), with the highest being the Air Transport Pilots License (ATPL). Lemmy Ndegwa, who scored A-, said he was looking forward to getting the CPL. He said that, just like with many other boys, his childhood dream had always been to become a pilot. Strayed into forest Ndegwa said he was inspired to become a pilot after he strayed into the forest and his father led a search team for him using a helicopter. Joseph Mbugua, who also got Grade A-, said he would pursue higher licences alongside a degree course in management so he could venture into the lucrative aviation business. Mr Josephat Njogu, father of Emmanuel Kinyanjui, who also got Grade A-, described Pioneer School as among the best in aviation training. “It has really advanced,” he said. The school offers aviation courses and the young pilots had started their aviation classes at the Kenya School of Flying (KSF) at the Wilson Airport, during the holidays when they were in Form Two. The classes ran through Form Three, after which they took a break to prepare for the KCSE examination. They resumed and completed the training soon after they sat the exams. Awarded Air Service Licence The school has since been awarded the Air Service Licence (ASL) which allows it to train its own pilots. Dr Cyrus Njiru, the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, was the chief guest at the colourful ceremony at the Orly Airpark, a 250-acre airfield in Kajiado County, about 28 kilometres from Nairobi and Wilson Airport. He encouraged the young pilots to aim for advanced licences, saying Kenya always has a shortage of commercial pilots. He said the Kenya Airways, which is the major employer of Kenyan pilots, was always experiencing a shortage of pilots. Training as a pilot is surely not a cheap undertaking with a student spending at least Sh2.8 million to get the coveted licence, which excluded normal school fees. Advanced licences The minimum age one could legally get a pilot’s licence is 17. This means, in Kenya, one could fly an aircraft even before qualifying to get a driving licence, whose minimum age is 18. However, the PPL is the basic licence and the holder is not allowed to carry paying passengers. To start earning a living through flying, a PPL holder would need the next level licence — the Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL). Sister company The Kenya School of Flying has a sister company, Aeronav Air Services, and on qualifying and earning a CPL, graduates get free further training, known in the aviation language as turbo prop rating, on the company’s Cessna Caravans (C208). The KSF founder and Managing Director, Capt Joseph Ririani, says the move seeks to expose the pilots to “aspects of multi-crew cooperation.” The Pioneer School has produced not less than 70 pilots since 2002 when it started its aviation programme. Pioneer School is among premier educational institutions in Kenya. It was founded by Mr Peter Munga, the founder and chairman of Equity Bank, Africa’s fastest-growing bank. The group includes St Paul’s Thomas Academy and the Nairobi-based Pioneer International University.