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Exclusive: Obstacles former journalist Tim Njiru overcame to become a pilot

By Winnie Mabel September 2nd, 2023 3 min read

Three years ago, former TV host Tim Njiru made the bold decision to join the aviation industry at the age of 38. Being a pilot had been his childhood dream but he found his path taking him into the media industry.

For 23 years, Tim worked in mainstream media as a host and TV producer but his burning desire to become a pilot wasn’t just a fleeting fascination; it was an unyielding calling that whispered through the noise of success.

The vibrant world of media may have provided the stage, but the sky offered the canvas on which he envisioned a different kind of journey, a dream of not only becoming a pilot, but an African aviation storyteller.

And so, to prepare for his career transition, he needed to acquire new skillsets. He had to undertake training in flying, something which he said was not too complex for him.

“For example ‘Human Factors’ is a refresher course into biology, human anatomy and psychology. Principles of flight is mathematics and physics. Navigation and Met is geography. Air Law has bits of history – the Geneva convention of how ICAO was formed and the Annexes that rule air transport. That said, If you want to fly, go ahead and fly,” Mr Njiru explains.

However, it’s always easier said than done and this is a realization Mr Njiru had when it came to expenses revolving around flight school during the career transition period.

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“Pesa (money). The mind, body and spirit wants to fly, but if the pockets are empty, then you’re on your own. Flight training is measured by the hours you fly to get your rating and license. Fuel prices have been on the incline. Flying one hour a week was a waste of money, literally. Flight training needs to be intense and not ‘a one meal a week’ type of thing,” he says.

“My mentor pilot advised me to first collect all I needed to fly then walk back to the airside when ready. It meant purging, decluttering, selling things that I simply didn’t need and working with the minimal of the minimal. TV, a second car, an expensive camera and accessories; and getting out of debt amounting to millions – of which I did. After that, working with a clear mind and being open to make money decently.

“Outside of video work that I do on a regular, I played the role of a tour guide to foreign tourists- thanks to my travels and documenting shows- sold puppies, sold car spare part and I once did landscaping jobs out of town. All those experiences kept me out of trouble and grounded me a good one,” he recalls.

Mr Njiru was determined to do whatever it takes to become a pilot after his interest in aviation was sparked at the age of 12 in Standard 6 when he flew on a sponsored flight to Washington DC in via London’s busiest airport, Heathrow. He had been among a group of students who were chosen for the trip based on merit.

Fast forward to May 2019. Mr Njiru finally flew an aircraft solo, an experience he told Nairobi News would forever be in his heart. It’s an experience that gets him emotional every time it comes to his mind.

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When asked what aspects of flying he found most exciting and fulfilling, he says: “It’s a new sky every new flight. Just like media, its always a new story and new experience. The best part is explaining what I’ve learnt to a new student or someone interested in the topic. I tend to learn things faster that way.”

While Mr Njiru is drawn to all types of aircraft – from Airbus and Boeing to paper jets and drones – he is considering specializing in cargo flying, a realm he believes many people never get to see.

“Have you asked yourself how flowers from Naivasha make amazing memories in Europe? Live tropical fish from Mombasa swimming in large aquariums in Dubai or how avocados from Kisii and Central Kenya find their way to Shanghai? I get enthralled by this,” he says.

Mr Njiru also has advice for people looking to change their careers later in life to ‘just start’.

“It starts when you say ‘I want to start’. If you feel you want to start, then start. Take the first step. You might not see the end of the stairway, but it is important to start. Embrace light and some love. The torch on your phone can only illuminate a certain radius. That’s all it takes to make the step ahead of you. Love what you want to do and have a simple understanding of what it is,” he says.

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