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Q&A: in conversation with the first Yazidi commercial pilot

By Ilaria Grasso Macola 22 Feb 2021 (Last Updated February 22nd, 2021 13:59)

We speak to Levan Ibrahim, who is set to graduate from Spanish flight school FlyBy, about his passion for flying and why his story is important not only to him and his loved ones but to the entire Yazidi community.

Q&A: in conversation with the first Yazidi commercial pilot
Levan is the first Yazidi to ever pilot a commercial aircraft. Credit: Pixabay.

Born in Iraqi Kurdistan and transferred to the UK at the age of six, Levan Ibrahim is no ordinary 20-year old.

Ibrahim is graduating from Spain-based flight school FlyBy in mid-2021, becoming the first Yazidi to ever pilot a commercial flight.

Stuck in the UK because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Levan tells us his story, why he decided to train to become a pilot and the positive impact his decision has had on his community.


Credit: Levan Ibrahim.

Ilaria Grasso Macola (IGM): Why did you want to become a commercial pilot?

Levan Ibrahim (LI): To be honest, it’s a bit of a funny story because at first, I didn’t want to become a pilot but a cabin crew member.

One time I was on a Ryanair flight from the UK to Germany and that was when I fell in love with aeroplanes. I remember walking in and looking on the left at the cockpit with all the buttons, and it was a moment: I just fell in love and I knew I wanted to do this.

And bear in mind, I was really young back then. I just got that idea [of becoming a pilot] I kept following that dream until now.

IGM: Why did you choose FlyBy and how did you get in touch with them?

LI: I had no idea about [the existence of] FlyBy until the last minute. I was looking into other flight schools and I was particularly interested in another one, but then one of my friends sent me the link to FlyBy’s website.

I remember looking at it and thinking it was too good to be true, especially because the other schools I was looking into offered less training and charged doubled compared to FlyBy. So, I decided to call the CEO, asking if everything was as advertised and I told him I was really interested.

We talked and he gave me a lot of information and, [after that], I just went for it.

IGM: What was your experience at the school like and what part did you enjoy the most?

LI: Having already done my private pilot training in the UK, I was already ahead of a lot of the students when I went to FlyBy, so I went straight into flying. When I started at the school, FlyBy was needing a lot of improvement, but [since then] the school listened to the feedback we gave and made a lot of improvements.

Now, FlyBy has become such a big school, giving a lot of quality training not only when it comes to the ground school but also the flying, which was amazing even back then.

It was mainly the ground school that needed improvements but from what I have heard it’s better compared to what it was before.

[The part I enjoyed the most during my time at FlyBy] was meeting a lot of new people and gaining a lot of knowledge from people all over the world.

IGM: How was your learning impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic?

LI: As I started my course in 2019, Covid-19 didn’t affect me a lot, especially when it came to classes and flight [hours], but when it came to exams, I was affected because they kept getting cancelled. FlyBy did the best it could to keep them going, but unfortunately, they had to be cancelled and because of that everybody went back to their countries, and I went back to England.

Being home [in the UK] with family and friends around me, I didn’t put my head down and study enough. I was out, helping my father or too busy to study so yes, [the pandemic] had an effect on me.

IGM: What lessons that you have learnt at the school have particularly struck a chord with you and that you will always remember?

LI: [The lesson that I will remember is] that anything is possible. Also living in a different country [teaches you] to become more mature and responsible.

That’s the kind of thing FlyBy teaches you, not directly but you learn all these lessons as you go along. FlyBy puts everything in your hands and tells you to organise your life by yourself, teaching you how to be mature and responsible as well as how to manage your time effectively.

IGM: Let’s talk about the future. You will be graduating from FlyBy in June/July. Do you think that the current pandemic will impact your work opportunities?

LI: I don’t have any expectations of finding any work [soon], but I hope something will change by then and there will be job opportunities.

IGM: You’re the first Yazidi to ever become a commercial pilot. What does it mean to you?

LI: Doing something so big makes me very proud of myself. The Yazidi are a minority that has been suffering for many years, not only with the advent of the Islamic State but even before that.

Being one in a million Yazidis to come out and do something like this makes me very proud and happy. I wish that more Yazidis could also [become pilots] because here in Europe or America [being a pilot is something normal] but for us, it’s something amazing, out of this world.

IGM: Do you hope your story will inspire other young Yazidis to pursue a career in aviation?

LI: I hope it will and I do believe it has [already] because recently I’ve seen online that there is a Yazidi girl in America who started training [to become a pilot]. I hope [my story] has impacted her as well as other people around me.

I do get a lot of Yazidi people coming up to me and asking what they need to do to become pilots and if I can help them. Of course, whatever I can help them with, I’d be happy to.

IGM: What are your hopes for the future?

LI: To be honest, I will take any opportunity that comes my way, but my ideal future would be to work in the UK or Germany, and hopefully fly for any airlines. I have Ryanair on my mind because I fell in love with aeroplanes and aviation on a Ryanair aircraft, so I would like to [start] my career there.

IGM: Overall, are you happy with your choice to become a pilot?

LI: I’m really happy to have become a pilot. Some people, when I tell them I’m training to become a [commercial] pilot and that I have a private pilot’s licence, are very surprised and tell me it’s amazing.

I don’t see it that way, I love flying aircraft and becoming a pilot. Some people think it’s something big but for me, it’s [just] a normal job.