At age 10, Ms Rachel Bianchi-Quarshie saw a pilot in full regalia. She fell in love at first sight: not with the man, but with the profession. From that day, she made a wish: she wanted to be a pilot!
Her wish, however, clashed with the dreams of an overbearing stepfather for her future. “You will never be a pilot!” he bellowed.
The wilder Ms Bianchi-Quarshie’s fantasies grew, the more determined was this terror of her mum’s husband – of whom she had lived in mortal dread all her life – to prove to her that that wish was not a horse, that she would ride.
Unknown to this man, Ms Bianchi-Quarshie was the rebellious type for whom opposition only birthed defiance. Seething with rage, the wish crystallised into a challenge, then a vow. “I was so angry, I wanted to challenge myself and prove him wrong.”
But she was not to have her way till many years later, and many thousands of miles away from him – in England where she lived with some relations. In England, the problem was different: she was financially challenged. No one was either in a position or willing to help her pay her way through a flying school.
Her mother’s relatives with who she lived loved her, but between their love and her wish stood a financial obstacle. They would have wished to help, but alas, she recalls, “the there was not there”!
With the little she could scrap from the bottom of the pot, therefore, she enrolled in a college to study Accountancy. She went far – Part Two of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) professional certificate.
But her situation was like that of a married woman hopelessly in love with the man next door. Accountancy was a noble profession, but for Ms Bianchi-Quarshie, it was not nobility she was looking for. It was her first love – flying in full regalia, in the uniform of the pilot she had seen at age 10.
At 22, just after she earned her ACCA Part Two, fortune knocked on her door. When she opened it, fortune came in the form of friends willing and ready to help her through flying school.
Training to become a pilot
In 2008, therefore, she sat in the lecture rooms of Bournmouth Commercial Flight School for the first time. Life, for her, had started at last!
But even here, there was a challenge – a small challenge: she was the only female in the class. “The guys bullied me,” she recalls. With the benefit of hindsight, however, Ms Bianchi-Quarshie thinks it was a worthy part of the training. “It toughened me. As a lady in this profession, one needs a huge ounce of confidence and discovery of self.”
From Bournmouth, she continued at the Stapleford Can Flight Centre where she studied Electrics, Power Plant, Principles of Flight (including Physics and Aerodynamics), Air Law, Aviation Communications and Instruments, among others.
Two years of intense studies later, she was awarded the Commencement to Air Transport Pilot Licence. But it was “frozen“, and it remains “frozen“ until she can accumulate a total of 1,500 flying hours – minimum.
In addition to the UK certificate, she dreamt of flying also in the United States of America. In 2011, therefore, she went to the US and enrolled at Flight Safety International.
Her aim: to obtain the US commercial licence. This, also, was “frozen”, and it remains so until she can accumulate a total of 1,500 flying hours –minimum.
Youngest Ghanaian female commercial pilot – Rachel Bianchi-Quarshie
She had, however, garnered enough flying hours to qualify to fly anywhere in the world. Alone in her room, she looked at herself in the mirror. Under her armpit were her certificates. Ms Bianchi-Quarshie is now a pilot, in full regalia – exactly as she had dreamt at age 10.
What went through her mind when she sat behind the instruments in the cockpit on her first flight, not as a student but as one in charge?
“Mixed feelings,” she recalls. “I was excited but nervous. Running through my mind was one reality: flying passengers is different from flying buddies.”
So what next?
She had heard of the buoyant aviation industry in Ghana. Recollections of her life as a child growing up under an overbearing stepdad and the sneers of some other relatives of her mum’s flooded her mind. That decided, she would come to Ghana to prove that she had made it; at least, as a pilot.
So to Ghana she returned. In November 2012, she went on her first flight in Ghana as a co-pilot. Destination: Kumasi. She has been flying to Kumasi and Tamale since then as a staff of Africa World Airlines (AWA), the Ghanaian-Chinese airline with Togbe Afede XIV as its chairman.
Asked how far so far, she was quick to reply. “So far so very good. I am enjoying myself. I am flying. I went through hell to get to this point” (abused by a stepdad, the disdain and ill-wish of my mum’s relatives; deprivation in the UK etcetera etcetera).
What lies ahead in the future ?Ms Bianchi-Quarshie in this nice African print.
She has given this question some consideration. For now, her dream is to obtain a Captain’s certificate. This may take anything between two and three years.
Asked if she would fly forever, Ms Bianchi-Quarshie did not hesitate, and her answer came as a surprise. “Flying could be – indeed, is – routine. You know, some (pilots) are in it for glory; some for money. I am in it to prove a point. That point having been proven, I now feel another challenge. A higher calling is on my life, something higher than the materialistic.”
In tones not unlike the biblical preacher (King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastics). Ms Bianchi-Quarshie feels that “everything materialistic is worthless”.
She knows for sure that she will end up in charity work. “Perhaps I’ll start an orphanage or do something for children with special needs. I think, for example, that streetism is a cycle that must be broken. I also have thoughts of helping abused women.”
For now, she plans to earn a PhD (perhaps in Psychology) after a Master’s degree in Finance and Economics and after a first degree in International Politics.
These are not pipe dreams. Indeed, the first degree goal takes off in September this year.
Ms Bianchi-Quarshie has youth on her side. Also on her side are opportunities for online and distant learning.
“But it’s certain, I will not fly forever. Humanitarian work attracts my spirit more. To attain that goal, therefore, flying is only a stepping stone. I have to be a successful pilot for people to notice me – in a sense, trying to get attention to be able to do what I want to do. That is the only way society will give me a hearing when the time comes to speak and do something for women and children.”
Wondering about the sound of her middle name, Ms Bianchi-Quarshie? Well, she is multi-national: part Ghanaian, part Indian, part French, part Italian.
Her dad was part Ewe- part Italian; her mother was part French, part Indian. Her daddy left home early in her life; hence, the introduction of a step-dad into the home.
Ms Bianchi-Quarshie is very cosmopolitan. At various times in her life, she lived in Accra, London, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg and Chicago.
Gossips are usually very careful when she is around. This is because besides English, she speaks Dutch and French plus a lot of Twi, Ga and Ewe
Having children of her own?
Not yet; but yes, she dreams of having her own children. She, however, does not like the idea of being a single parent.
“It’s not fair to the child. I will have babies but I want to do it married”.
Yes, “but I want to find somebody who will understand me and my profession, someone who will not stand between me and my dreams. For me, Mr Right is not about a famous or rich guy. I want someone very practical.”
When she is not flying, Ms Bianchi-Quarshie is reading. And what subject for a woman! She reads about history of wars and war personalities such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander the Great.
Otherwise, she is occupied with painting, mostly in oil paints, and designing anything that crosses her fancy.
She is known to have designed a new airport for Accra. She also spends time writing – rewriting the thoughts of great philosophers.
What do her employers at Africa World Airlines (AWA) think of her?
Mrs Christabel Amegayigbor, HR Director at AWA, extolled the virtues of Ms Bianchi-Quarshie. “She is great! Full of useful ideas about how things could be done differently. “Ms Bianchi-Quarshie makes a difference in a profession dominated by males; sort of makes you know that the field is not all guys. And she knows her job”!
By Enimil Ashon / The Mirror / Ghana