Suria Affandi (40) one of only a handful of female drone industrial pilots in Malaysia, is proving that the sky is the limit.
Having been a drone pilot for more than five years with Meraque Services Sdn Bhd, a Malaysian drone tech company, she feels there are preconceived notions about having a job in the drone industry."A job in the drone space does not necessarily confine you to being a drone pilot. There are numerous jobs that females can take on.
"This space from software development to operations and equipment handling, has always been a man's job for as long as I can remember. It's an archaic convention. Our drones may be huge, but honestly, it does not take much physical strength to operate them," said the mother of two.
"The job does require us to be on-site, working in unfavourable environments at times, but it is extremely exhilarating. Yes, we lack female involvement in this industry, and it is because of these sorts of stigma that make the jobs seem unappealing and off-putting, which hinder women from pursuing a career in it," added Suria.
THE WORKING LIFEOn a typical day, Suria manoeuvres both the Meraque Hybrid Spraying and Hybrid Spot Spraying drones in oil palm plantations and around telecommunications towers for companies such as Sime Darby Plantation, Achi Jaya Plantations, FGV Holdings Bhd, Felcra Bhd and Edotco Group.
Before pursuing a career in flying drones, Suria had a typical nine-to-five office job. Drones were a passion project at the time, but the more involved she got, the more she felt the calling.
"I started working for Meraque as a facility management manager. I never imagined being a drone pilot in my wildest dreams, but the more I learned about it, the more passionate I became," said Suria.
"And so I took a gamble. After all, what had I to lose? Now, I am a lead pilot spearheading projects for Meraque, playing a pivotal role in the nation's technological advancement and having a positive impact by future-proofing industries," she said.
Becoming a drone pilot may not be easy, but it is worthwhile. She said that flying a drone does not require prior experience.
"However, it would help if you have a lot of enthusiasm, a thirst for learning, and the tenacity to keep going. Anyone can pursue a career in this ecosystem. Most of us in this field started our careers as a hobby, either taking photos and videos or even racing," she said.
BECOMING A DRONE PILOTTo be a licensed drone pilot, candidates need to be certified by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia and acquire piloting licences for commercial or industrial drones.
And Meraque offers in-house pilots numerous training programmes and certification opportunities for continuous development.
"Generating awareness, I believe, is key to increasing female participation in this space. Because the industry is relatively new, there is not much information circulating about drone technology job opportunities. Seeing is believing. If women see other women taking up new jobs, they will be inclined to follow suit," said Suria.