Bristow's Mopelola Iyiola: Destined to fly in a family of pilots

In honor of Women's History Month at Bristow, we're featuring Senior First Officer Mopelola Iyiola from our base in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Tell us about your family.

I was born in Warri, Delta State (Nigeria) and I have also lived in Lagos and Greater Port Harcourt in Rivers State. I am the oldest of seven girls. Three of us are professional pilots, and my other four sisters are doing very well in their chosen professions. I always enjoyed family trips, especially with my sisters.

My mom was a metrologist. She passed away in 2020. My dad is a pilot, now retired, and works with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

I am the mother of three boys,11, 7 and 4. My husband is also a pilot. I love to travel but don’t often get the opportunity.

As a Pilot/Senior First Officer, would you share your background and the path you took that brought you to Bristow?

I graduated from Madonna University with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, but I had always wanted to be a pilot. My dad paid for my private-pilot license training, which I received from JNC Helicopters in Durban, South Africa in 2008.

My dad was a pilot with Aero Contractors, and Aero advertised sponsorship for helicopter training. I applied, went through a rigorous selection process, and I was chosen among many men.

We were sent back to 43 Air School in Port Alfred, South Africa for the Commercial Pilot License (CPL) training so we could fly commercially.

I came back after completing the training in May 2009 and was sent for the AS365 type-rating in Marseille, France.

In 2012, I applied to Bristow, and I remember walking into the Bristow facility at Port Harcourt for my assessment flight test in September 2012. Everyone was warm and welcoming. I got hired and was sent for Bell 412 type-rating simulator training. That was how my journey started with the Company, and I am type-rated on the Bell 412, S76C++, and S76D at Bristow.

What I found unique were the opportunities Bristow was giving to women in the rotary-wing sector.

Did you face any challenges? How did you overcome them?

Yes, I faced a lot of challenges as a woman, wife and mother. Career growth is slow. Many of my male counterparts got promoted to Captains (Commanders) in less than seven years. For me, it’s taking longer.

Every time I got pregnant, I had to stop flying until after I gave birth and was cleared to come back to flight duties. With the pregnancy, maternity leave and medical clearances, the whole process can take well over one year, and I went through it three separate times.

I always consider my children and spouse in any decision regarding career opportunities. Sometimes I want to pursue an opportunity, but because it will keep me away from the family for long periods and my kids are still young, I decline and opt for a path that allows for better work/life balance.

One thing that keeps me going is the passion to be the best pilot and mom I can. I have a great, supportive team, and my family, including my late mom, dad, sisters, and my spouse have provided words of encouragement and have been a full village of support throughout my journey, even though they have their own lives and families to care for.

What’s a typical day like?

I wake up 5:30 a.m., pray and then assist in getting the children ready for school. I walk outside for 30 minutes, shower and then bid my sons goodbye before they depart for school.

I leave for work at 7 a.m. I plan my flight and go through my Operations Manual Part B, familiarizing myself with anything new (e.g., NOTAMs) and go through the safety publications again.

If I am lucky, flight duties end by 1700 hours and I get home 30 minutes later. I then prepare dinner for my sons and oversee school assignments as we do our daily catching up. I then pray with my sons before they go to bed. I watch a bit of tv, catch up with my spouse and then it’s off to bed.

What was the greatest lesson you learned from a colleague or mentor?  Who inspires you?

Never be in a hurry, even in an emergency. Pause and think before rushing into things.

I was greatly inspired by Captain Faith Boegheim (Odushola) and the late Gladys Ben Erom, who was a helicopter pilot.

What advice do you have for women just beginning their career?

I advise any woman taking up a career in aviation (piloting) to be patient, knowing this is a male-dominated career. If you believe in yourself and love what you do, or what you’re getting into, I bet you will succeed.