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The trainee pilot flying high to beat COVID

Phoebe Dampare Osei
·3-min read

Watch: The trainee pilot flying high to beat COVID

Watch the full interview with Rasheed above

A trainee pilot has returned to flight school after raising more than £70,000 to continue chasing a dream that the pandemic had threatened to shatter.

In 2019, Rasheed Graham became the first Black student to join the Aer Lingus Future Pilot Programme, but was forced to launch a crowdfunding appeal when the airline cut his funding after the industry was decimated by the spread of coronavirus.

The airline said it could only cover 40% of the course, which was initially fully funded, with the remaining £60,000 to be covered by the students themselves, or they would lose their place.

Rasheed, from Kensal Rise in north-west London, has wanted to be a pilot from the age of five even though he knew the odds were stacked against him.

Rasheed Graham faced being ejected from his pilot training course. (Pic: Supplied)
Rasheed Graham faced being ejected from his pilot training course. (Pic: Supplied)

He told Yahoo News UK one of his secondary school teachers tried to talk him out of it: "He said, “have you thought about doing something else? Are you sure the pilot’s for you?'

“If I was in a private school or a rich area, he probably wouldn’t have said that. I know how it is to be boxed in, I just wanted to spread my wings.”

He added: “I would never think a pandemic would stop my chances. If anything could have gone wrong, this was it.”

Rasheed started crowdfunding in September last year, and on 26 October he appeared on a BBC Panorama programme called Has COVID Stolen My Future?, which looked at the impact of the virus on the prospects of young people.

Over the course of the programme, donations on his GoFundMe page soared from £39,000 beyond his £60,000 target in minutes.

“I was mind blown, absolutely mind blown,” he said. “I’m just grateful more than anything. It feels great to know that COVID has not stolen my future but I wish it was the same for the others in the documentary.”

Last month, Rasheed finally returned to the FTE Jerez flight school in southern Spain - and has achieved high marks in all his modules so far.

During the second lockdown, Rasheed even co-wrote a book, FLY HIGH: A Guide to Pilot and Air Cabin Crew Training with Amanda Epe, an award-winning author and the creator of Fly Girls Wellness - a UK-based project that empowers girls and women to be active, authors, and leaders.

Less than seven per cent of pilots around the world either Black or from other ethnic minorities, and Rasheed said he plans to work with schools and colleges in the future to inspire others to achieve their dreams.

He said of the opportunity others have helped him achieve: “I have complete and utter faith in the community - team work always makes a dream work.”

Rasheed will be updating his progress on his blog in the coming weeks