Aviation pioneer Sibongile Sambo, who was born in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, South Africa, in 1974, holds the distinction of being the first woman to become a South African airline executive. Sambo founded SRS Aviation in 2004. She is a graduate of the College of Zululand, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in administration and later earned her master’s degree in management of technology and innovation in aviation.
Sambo founded SRS Aviation in 2004 without any formal experience in the aviation industry. Instead of taking on bank loans to finance her young company, she relied on her family, with her mother and aunt lending her the needed funds. After an inspection of her company’s infrastructure by the South African government, which found, among other things, that SRS Aviation had safe and airworthy aircraft, her company received an official Air Operating Certificate in 2006. This made her SRS the first Black-owned aviation company in South Africa to be granted full rights to conduct commercial flight activities.
SRS Aviation found its first opportunity with the South African government in 2006 when it invited airlines to bid for a contract to transport cargo. The government awarded the contract as a joint venture between SRS Aviation and another competing company.
SRS Aviation is the first black female-owned aviation company on the African continent. It offers professional and personalized flight options, including VIP charter, air cargo charter, tourist transfers, medical evacuations, aerial photography, and general aviation security services.
In June 2010, SRS Aviation branched into flight and passenger supplies, opening its first store in Johannesburg’s city airports. Since then, SRS has opened a chain of retail stores across South Africa’s airport network.
Sibongile Sambo is the recipient of several awards: In 2006, she won the Black Woman in Business Awards (BIBA) in London and was named a “Leader of Tomorrow” by Fortune Magazine. She is a member of the World Entrepreneurship Forum (a think tank founded by former French President Nicholas Sarkozy), and was nominated for the Queen Victoria Memorial Award by the European Business Assembly in 2009. In 2013, Sambo was named to the list of “20 Young Power Women in Africa.”
Sibongile Sambo is also a motivational speaker. She mentors young people and other businesspeople in Africa, while creating much-needed employment and supporting women from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.