WFP’s first female Chief Air Transport Officer

An interview with Sandra Legg, Chief Air Transport Officer of the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) in Chad and the first — and only — woman to head an Aviation Field Operation for the World Food Programme (WFP).

Fabiana Lubetkin
Dec 21, 2018 · 5 min read
Managing an UNHAS operation requires coordinating the needs and interests of a variety of stakeholders. Photo: WFP/ Photolibrary

How does it feel to be the first female Chief Air Transport Officer?

What is a typical working day like for you?

And then, when you think everything is going smoothly, you get a complicated request — like a medical evacuation — or a call that the runway is wet and inaccessible to the aircraft. There is no boredom in this job.

What does your role involve?

As a woman, what challenges do you face in your role?

UN Deputy Secretary-General Ms. Amina Mohammed in Chad. Photo: WFP/Photo library

Is the way you do the job any different from how a man would?

Why do you think there are still few women working in the aviation industry?

What can be done to change the perception that aviation is a male-dominated industry?

Women should aim to ensure positions in aviation security, aviation safety, ground management, aircraft engineering; they should become pilots. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing someone grow in their career.

As a mother of three, I had to juggle my family life and a demanding job for many years. It was difficult but, as I said, everything is possible if you enjoy what you do, and your hard work will pay off.

What is your advice to women wanting to become Chief Air Transport Officer?

The UNHAS team in Chad enables staff from 90 humanitarian organization to travel where their work is needed. Photo: WFP Photo library

What are the most valuable lessons you have learned through your experience? And what makes you think you succeeded in your job?

In Chad, the humanitarian community supports over 400,000 refugees from Sudan, Central African Republic, Nigeria and 2.6 million vulnerable Chadians and internally displaced persons. Thanks to UNHAS flights, staff from 90 humanitarian organizations can access the epicenter of crises promptly.

Like Pope Francis said, “don’t put a number to a person but a name or feeling to a person”. All those we serve are humans, and we need to care for them.

Put yourself in their situation: a humanitarian who has worked hard in the deep field with all the challenges of electricity, water, extreme heat, sandstorms, fatigue, and is ready to go home and then suddenly hears the flight is canceled; or a beneficiary who is under your responsibility, who is in a critical health condition and needs this life-saving flight immediately. I am grateful that our mandate offer us the opportunity to serve this way.

The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), managed by WFP, offers safe, reliable, cost-efficient and effective passenger and light cargo transport for the wider humanitarian community to and from areas of crisis and intervention.

In her 24-year WFP career, Sandra Legg has deployed her aviation skills to save and change lives in several countries across the world, particularly in some of WFP’s most challenging operations. She is a member of Women in Aviation International (WAI) and a role model for women aspiring to work in the male-dominated world of humanitarian air operations.

Learn more about UNHAS

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme