A Struggle to Land Safely

Abdullahi Abdulle
Abdullahi Abdulle
By Robert Rossi and Abdullahi Abdulle | June 2018 Seward Splash

We know Abdullahi Abdulle as a member of Seward’s Main Office staff, and his calm demeanor and watchful eye might suggest he’s been doing this kind of work all his life. But like many who emigrate as adults, he had a very different occupation in his earlier years: in Mr. Abdullahi’s case, those watchful eyes and calm demeanor used to guide commercial aircraft through the skies.

A Brief History of Abdullahi Abdulle

Mr. Abdullahi was born in central Somalia: a mostly semi-arid part of the country typified by pastoral, nomadic life. On finishing third grade, he went to Mogadishu (the capital city of Somalia) in order to continue his schooling. He did well in school, and on completing high school in 1978 was assessed for his potential as an aviator. The results of these assessments, which included written tests and health examinations, selected Mr. Abdullahi to train to become an airline pilot.

A Brief History of Somali Airlines

Somali Airlines, Somalia’s national airline, came about with the help of the United States, Germany, and Italy. It was established in 1964 with three DC-3 aircraft donated by the United States and temporarily staffed by crew from Alitalia, Italy’s national airline, until Somali pilots and engineers could be trained. West Germany and its national airline, Lufthansa, volunteered to train the first group of Somali pilots, as well as civil aviation personnel and weather forecasters.

In 1977, Lufthansa Flight 181 was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and flew to several countries, finally ending up at the airport in Mogadishu. With Somalia’s help, West German special forces stormed the plane and freed the remaining hostages. Asked how Lufthansa might thank Somalia for its assistance in this crisis, the Somali government asked that a second generation of Somali pilots be trained by Lufthansa, and Mr. Abdullahi was selected to be part of this group. From 1979 to 1982 he went to flight school at Lufthansa facilities

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in West Germany and Arizona (in the southern USA), and graduated with a commercial pilot’s license. He then flew Fokker F-27 (turboprop aircraft made in the Netherlands) for Somali Airlines in Somalia.

When Somalia obtained some Dornier 228 aircraft (German high-wing, short-takeoff-and-landing turboprops more flexible with respect to payload and landing site) in 1987, Mr. Abdullahi returned to Germany to train on this type of aircraft, and began flying them as well. These planes could fly into more remote locations, and sometimes ferried passengers and supplies for corporations and nonprofit entities working in Somalia and neighboring countries.

Two Ends

Somali Airlines and Mr. Abdullahi’s career as a pilot ended together, with the fall of Mogadishu in Somalia’s civil war in 1991. For many difficult years facing fear, internal displacement, and survival challenges, his focus was on protecting his family and making a new start.

New Beginnings

In 2009 Mr. Abdullahi went to Canada and met some fellow former Somali Airlines personnel in Toronto. He then visited the Lufthansa facility in Arizona where he had trained when he was young, and reunited with a former flight instructor. He also visited Minneapolis, and met with some of the Somali communities who were already making a new life here. He saw hope in their experience and worked to join them, and to bring his family here. In 2012 Mr. Abdullahi was granted a visa to come to the United States, but it was only for him—he had to leave his family behind, which was very difficult. He did not know how long they would have to be apart. He learned of a vacancy at Seward Montessori and applied for the position he now holds at our school. Last year (five years after they were separated) most of his family was able to join him here and start a new life: it was a very happy reunion. Seward’s school community threw his family a welcome party and went out of their way to make them all feel welcome here, for which Mr. Abdullahi is very thankful. Some of Mr. Abdullahi’s children are now Seward students!