María Maldonado

Airline: Avianca
Crew Position: Captain
Aircraft: A-320/A-321
Domicile: Bogotá, Colombia

Where did you do your flight training?

I did my Flight School for private and commercial certificates at Aerocentro in Bogotá, Colombia.  I then went to Stockholm, Sweden to Oxford Aviation Academy where I did my multi-engine type in a Fokker-50.

In 2017, I completed my Upgrade as Captain on the A320 at Airbus Americas in Miami, and later I earned my FAA ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot License) on the A320 at Alliance Aviation in Florida.

How did you get interested in aviation?

I chose to be a pilot because ever since I was a child, I was attracted to airplanes.  I was curious about how such a big and heavy metal structure could fly!

I remember when I was 8 years old watching a TV series, “The Airwolf.”  It was about a team of helicopter pilots and their missions, and within that team, there was a female pilot.  From that moment, I knew that I wanted to be one of them.


What airplanes have you flown during your career?

I have flown the Piper PA-28 Cherokee 161 and 181 Archer, Fokker-50, 
Fokker-100 (I absolutely loved it!), and Airbus A318/319/320/321.

Flying Piper PA-28
Flight School in Sweeden
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Have you had/have any mentors throughout the years?

Yes, throughout my career I have had various mentors, one of them being Captain Maribel Porras Gil.  She has been the most recognized and inspiring woman, perhaps for us Colombian pilots, since practically all of us were her First Officers.  If there is something that I always remember about her when I’m flying, is: “Don’t let anyone pressure you.”  I remember that sometimes the ATC controller asked us from afar if we had the runway in sight and despite having it, she said “tell him no, no hurry!  Let him do his job”.

I also fondly remember who my first instructors were, the first two who taught me to fly:  Captain Oscar Gutierrez (R.I.P) and Captain Rodolfo Galvis, with whom I still keep in touch.  And of course, those who trained me for each promotion I received during my airline career until I become a Captain; Cpt Pedro Saravia, Cpt Ivan Cardozo, Cpt Jaime Medina, Cpt Alejandro Ortega, Cpt Guido Gonzalez.  All of them are unforgettable for me and I carry them in my heart.

Do you have any future aviation goals you hope to achieve?

Definitely! My next goal is to become an SFI (Synthetic Flight Instructor). Right now, I’m finishing my training as a TCI (Training Center Instructor). I’m doing it here in Bogotá at Global Training Aviation GTA. I would also love to be a Virtual Reality Instructor.  This is a nice project that we have started with my friend and colleague, Andrés Bohada, at Pilotecnica Virtual Academy and I am sure this is the aviation training future. 

Another one of my goals is to encourage, support, and inspire more women to be part of this aviation community, so that the percentage of women in the cockpits flying through the skies around the world increases. I have set myself the goal of showing my colleagues from Central and South America about ISA’s mission and invite them to be part of this volunteering and be the ambassadors in our countries where there is still a lot of ignorance about the fact that a woman can be an airline pilot, and where we are still a minority.

What have been some recent challenges you’ve faced? 


This year especially has been a year of many challenges. After spending four amazing years flying in Vietnam, I returned to fly in Colombia, my country of origin, for Avianca where I had worked for more than 20 years.

My family settled in the United States, so I would commute between Bogotá and Florida. But once I returned to Colombia, I ended up going through an unexpected divorce.  

Pilot’s lifestyle isn’t easy, and It’s no secret to anyone how complicated the family life of a pilot can be. It is necessary to find a person who is very mature and strong to face it and accept that this is our profession.

In 2022 I’ve been living separately from my three children who are 20,17 and 8 years old. I have only been able to visit them during my days off. My greatest wish is to be able to live with them again soon. That day my heart will be full again.

The other challenge is being single again in my 40’s, but I think 40’s are the new 20’s!!

Maria with two sons
Humanitarian Flight
Avianca Crew
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What would you say to girls looking to become an airline pilot?
I would tell them “one day you will thank yourself for not giving up.”

This it is the most beautiful profession in the world, being a pilot you can look forward to a hugely rewarding career.  I’ve cried many times, of course!  I talk about my hopes and fears, and I try to be honest to myself about my strengths and weaknesses, and I encourage others to do the same.

Believe that you can do it, one of the most important keys to success is to be disciplined and love what you do.  Through self-confidence, perseverance, and a strong responsibility you will achieve your goal.

There is no feeling in the world like flying an airplane, feeling inspired by each of the women who have achieved it, and you can be sure that you will also achieve it!  We are here to surround you and empower you.

Maria with daughter

What was the first reaction when people see you as a female pilot?

From my experience, this has been very positive and encouraging, walking through the airports where I meet with many smiles and is very exciting.

Also, it was so nice to have been chosen as the advertising image of VietJet Airline and to see myself on the billboards on the Vietnamese streets.  I was walking in the airport once where a boy recognized me and asked me to take a picture with him.  It is something that happens once in a lifetime. (That’s a story that I will tell my grandchildren someday!)


With the owner of VietJet
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What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

I think there have been four specific moments:
  • The day I made my first solo flight
  • The day we founded the Civil Air Patrol of Risaralda, a 100% social mission to reach the most distant places where many poor people needed free medical services provided by volunteer doctors and pilots
  • The day I received my Captain Upgrade
  • The day I received the award as the pilot with the Best Safety Performance of the airline.
First Solo Flight
Civil Air Patrol
Captain Upgrade
Safety Performance Award
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What do you feel is a benefit of being an ISA+21 member?
I have had the great opportunity to share and learn from the founders who have been opening a path for all of us for more than 44 years.  The first time I saw them in Dublin, it was like seeing my favorite rock star, I just thought: “I want a picture with them!”

Every time I had the opportunity to sit near some of the founders and retired captains, it was fascinating for me to listen their stories and their experiences, I definitely have a lot to learn from all of them.

When I talk to my colleagues about what my experience was at the ISA+21 Conference, I can not stop smiling and sharing that happiness that I felt being there surrounded by such incredible women who also gave me a warm and unforgettable welcome of sisterhood.

I also love knowing that we all have a common goal, and that we are all volunteers and help where we can.  I have to admit we had a great time!  I’m so proud to be a pilot and to be an ISA+21 member, indeed!

Latina ISA+21 Members in Dublin
ISA+21 Captain's Club Induction
ISA+21 Captain's Club Induction
Dublin Reception
Presentation to ISA+21 Members
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