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Malvina and Wally Funk.

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Women In Flight

From Milan to Middleburg

“It bothers me when people act surprised that I’m a pilot. This is 2022. People shouldn’t be surprised by that.”

Many years ago, a little girl growing up near Milan, Italy, used to go with her father to the Milan Malpensa Airport to watch the planes take off and land. She was fascinated by the planes and dreamed that one day she could fly them. Her mother, however, was a chef and Malvina Lekli felt the tug of family pressure to follow in her footsteps. She moved to Germany and trained in the culinary arts. She met a boy and they moved back to Italy to open a restaurant. 

That would have been that, except that Malvina found herself perpetually exhausted with the brutal restaurant schedule. One day, she realized that she just couldn’t face an entire life of that.

Then, her grandfather reminded her about her childhood dream and encouraged her to try learning to fly. Instantly, Malvina knew that was what she was meant to do. Unfortunately, flight schools in Europe are very expensive and neither she nor her family had the means to finance an education in aviation. 

Undaunted, Malvina began applying for jobs in aviation. “I just wanted to be on the planes. I didn’t care what I was doing, I just wanted to fly,” she says.  She got hired as a flight attendant by a regional carrier for Alitalia based in Albania. 

On one of her trips to the U.S., she met a man from Middleburg that she would marry. Rob wanted to find a way for Malvina to spend more time here in Virginia so he began researching flight schools at the Leesburg airport. Working 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off, she came here to learn to fly on her weeks off and earned not just a pilot’s license, but her commercial license and became a certified flight instructor. Now, she teaches and flies as co-pilot on commercial charters logging the flight hours she will need to fly for the airlines later this year.

“We need more women pilots!” she insists. “Women make great pilots and there are thousands of them in the industry,” she says, “but it still feels like aviation is a man’s world.” When new students come to the Aero-Elite flight school where she works as an instructor, they act surprised when they learn that she is a pilot. 

To help change that mindset and to help encourage women and girls who, like her, had childhood dreams of flying, Malvina volunteers with organizations like Women in Aviation and the Ninety-Nines and speaks about aviation with women and girls of all ages -- yes, ALL ages! She recently flew with Wally Funk, the eighty-two year old woman aviator and commercial astronaut who went to space with Jeff Bezos.

With a world-wide pilot shortage and growing demand, there have never been more opportunities for careers in aviation. To learn more or take a demonstration flight, stop by Aero-Elite flight school at Leesburg airport and say hello to Malvina, before she’s off to her next adventure.

  • Malvina and Wally Funk.
  • Malvina Lekli