Oct. 20, 2022

Two pilots – one from Afghanistan and the other from Jamaica – shared the secrets behind their transformation at a very young age to becoming record-setting aviators during a presentation for students Thursday at the 2022 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE).

Barrington Irving, founder and CEO of Flying Classroom, moved with his family from Jamaica to the U.S. and grew up in a rough neighborhood in Miami. In 2010, at age 23, he became the youngest and first African-American to fly solo around the world.

Shaesta Waiz, founder and president of Dreams Soar, came to the United States from Afghanistan with her family and quickly became fascinated with aviation. In 2017 that drove her, at age 30, to become the youngest single-engine pilot at the time to circumnavigate the globe solo.

It all started with Waiz falling in love with aviation.

“Just think about it, when you’re in an airplane, you are being elevated into the sky,” she told the student audience. “It really doesn’t matter where you’re from, how shy you are, what color your parents are, what circumstances and background you come from, as long as you are a good and competent pilot, that aircraft is going to fly to the destination you want to go to.”

Waiz said that idea propelled her forward. “I just found myself flourishing, and it gave me a lot of confidence.”

She pointed out that achieving your dreams can’t be done without learning to handle rejection along the way. “We took every setback as a challenge to be better.”

Role models also can make a big difference.

“To be honest, I did not resonate with Amelia Earhart,” Waiz said. “Yes, she’s a woman. But she had such a different background than me. When I read Barrington’s story and how he kind of grew up in the ghetto of Miami – a similar background to how I grew up – and I saw that he did it, that was my proof that I could do it, too.”

Irving told the students that a key lesson for him was learning to pivot around the unexpected.

“Sometimes you might have to take on other jobs in the industry to be exposed to something new, while you’re still progressing to whatever your goal is in that industry. And that’s something that I really try to encourage young people to do.”

“But like Socrates said, the ability to pivot and to adjust is so key,” continued Irving. “Because you have to figure out, how exactly do I get there? But also, you might have to make a sacrifice that’s uncomfortable. Or you might have to invest a little bit more in yourself, or you might have to self-teach. You don’t have to wait for someone to show you.”

Both Irving and Waiz told the students that finding a mentor is important. Waiz reminded Irving about when she experienced a setback and he helped her move forward.

Waiz said, “Just being able to pick up the phone and call you and say, ‘Hey, this is what happened.’ Because you’ve had the experience, you helped me navigate around it. You know, that was very important.”

“I have mentors as well,” Irving said. “Some are sitting in this room. The important thing is you have to have a mindset where you’re constantly learning. Mentorship is key.”

“We’re all Barrington and Shaesta,” moderator Ian Lumpp, director of business development at Flying magazine and a member of NBAA’s Young Professionals (YoPro) program, reminded the students. These lessons, if applied, can help map a path forward to success.

“Keep looking to the future,” advised FAA Deputy Administrator Bradley Mims, who also was part of the panel discussion. Mims reminded students that the industry is poised to explode with opportunities, thanks to emerging technologies such as advanced air mobility (AAM).

“Don’t forget to have fun,” Mims added. “Enjoy yourself along the way. Laugh. Don’t look back on what you perceive to be your failures. Always keep moving forward. That’s all you have to do. You’ll be very successful and you’ll enjoy this life that the universe has put in front of you.”

Learn more about NBAA Young Professionals (YoPros).

Any person who attends an NBAA convention, conference, seminar or other program grants permission to NBAA, its employees and agents (collectively "NBAA") to record his or her visual/audio images, including, but not limited to, photographs, digital images, voices, sound or video recordings, audio clips, or accompanying written descriptions, and, without notifying such person, to use his or her name and such images for any purpose of NBAA, including advertisements for NBAA and its programs.