She sets con­trols for an ex­cit­ing life

Chantel Man­ning has flown in some of world’s most dan­ger­ous places, writes HEIN KAISER

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

LIV­ING life to its fullest ex­tent is pi­lot Chantel Man­ning’s mantra. Af­ter tak­ing in the view from the flight deck on a trip to Mau­ri­tius in her 20s, Man­ning swopped a ca­reer in fash­ion for flight and now operates Boe­ing 737s across the con­ti­nent and trav­els, daily, with a kit­bag of incredible ex­pe­ri­ences. That’s not all. Many peo­ple will recog­nise her from the team Sugar and Spice in last year’s Ul­ti­mate Braai Master on

“Get­ting a com­mer­cial pi­lot’s li­cence is not a cheap ex­er­cise and, once you have it, find­ing a job is ex­tremely tough. Hav­ing all the qual­i­fi­ca­tions but no ex­pe­ri­ence sends all as­pir­ing pi­lots on mas­sive job hunt­ing ex­er­cises, look­ing for the one break that will serve as a foundation for your ca­reer,” says Man­ning.

Op­por­tu­nity knocked for Man­ning in 2007 when she landed her first job.

“When I started my train­ing, I al­ways thought that I would fly every­where glam­orous. Lon­don, New York, Paris. I got Kin­shasa, Mban­daka and Gbadado­lite in­stead,” she laughs.

Re­port­ing for duty in the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo, Man­ning quickly be­came fa­mil­iar with the re­al­i­ties of her ca­reer. Blonde, in heels and in a “Bar­bie out­fit” she had to deal with a pas­sage of cor­rup­tion be­tween dis­em­bark­ing and bag­gage re­claim.

“I think I looked like an easy tar­get at the time and, things got even worse when my lug­gage never ar­rived, there was no­body to col­lect me at the air­port and I was given no con­tact num­ber. Look­ing back, it was a great ad­ven­ture but, at the time, wait­ing it out and watch­ing rats as large as cats scut­tle past me in the cof­fee shop where I ended up; I re­mind my­self of th­ese be­gin­nings daily.”

Her first day on the job saw her don shiny, black skin-tight trousers she man­aged to buy en route, a bor­rowed white shirt three sizes too big, white socks and moc­casins.

“I looked a far cry from the im­mac­u­lately groomed vi­sion of pi­lots I had in my mind and, with my lug­gage still fol­low­ing its own itin­er­ary some­where else, I was set for my de­but.”

Build­ing es­sen­tial fly­ing hours while on con­tract, mis­ad­ven­tures and ad­ven­tures have marked the years.

“Pi­lots have to put in so much sweat, tears and per­sonal in­vest­ment into their ca­reers. Next time you board a com­mer­cial flight, ap­pre­ci­ate the years of toil that earned your cap­tain or first of­fi­cer their seats in the flight deck.”

Fly­ing in war-zones is noth­ing new to Man­ning either. Af­ter her stint in the DRC, a move to Kabul, Afghanistan fol­lowed.

“It was quite hair-rais­ing be­ing shot at from the ground and, be­ing a moun­tain­ous area, it was im­pos­si­ble to suc­cess­fully ex­e­cute an emer­gency land­ing had we been hit – some­thing we were un­sure of through­out the flight. It made me re­alise how frag­ile life could be,” she re­calls.

But her lust for life soon saw Man­ning be­com­ing the toast of the com­pound, quite lit­er­ally. Cred­ited for run­ning the first and only she­been in Afghanistan, she even im­ported a portable splash pool to com­plete the cock­tail bar feel of her en­ter­prise.

It was a case of when in Rome, as the adage goes. “When in Afghanistan,” says Man­ning, “con­vince peo­ple to do things your way. I no­ticed a gap in the mar­ket to sell al­co­holic beverages to con­tract work­ers sta­tioned in our com­pound and ended up do­ing a daily flight,be­tween du­ties, to other camps that had drinks for sale. It was very risky but ex­tremely prof­itable at the time. Would I do it again – def­i­nitely not!”

Man­ning be­came known as the “Queen of (the) Kaia’ and need­less to say her bunker was the so­cial hub in the com­pound.

“Apart from the work ex­pe­ri­ence I gained, the ad­ven­tures and the risk I have forged life­long friend­ships and the life-lessons one ac­quires made ev­ery mo­ment a worth­while ex­pe­ri­ence,” she re­flects.

Afghanistan was not the end of fly­ing in con­flict zones – she cur­rently flies into South Su­dan on con­tract.

While at home, Man­ning’s pas­sion for food and en­ter­tain­ing is un­re­lent­ing. “From my ear­li­est mem­o­ries I have al­ways loved food. I re­mem­ber my gran giv­ing me a set of chil­dren’s pots and pans for my fourth birth­day. I’d pull up a stool to the stove, and cook. I loved try­ing new flavours and ex­per­i­ment­ing.”

Lit­tle sur­prise then that she has be­come af­fec­tion­ately known as the “Fly­ing Cook”. “Wher­ever I end up op­er­at­ing flights, it is al­ways ir­re­sistible to start up a braai, a din­ner or just to whip up a lit­tle some­thing for my col­leagues.”

She has re­cently be­come a long-dis­tance con­trib­u­tor to a life­style ra­dio show and has plans to pub­lish a cook book.

Liv­ing a ful­fil­ing and full life, not only for your­self but for your friends and fam­ily too, is Man­ning’s mantra. “I be­lieve that when you com­bine your nat­u­ral tal­ents and pas­sions and choose a life con­ducive to mak­ing them come true, an out­come of per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion and out­stand­ing per­for­mance is in­evitable.”

● Kaiser is spokesman for Mango Air­lines.

‘I think I looked

like an easy

tar­get at the

time and things

got even worse

when my lug­gage

never ar­rived’

LIFE OF THE PARTY: Chantel Man­ning ran a she­been in Afghanistan.

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