“Flying for Hawaiian Airlines with my daughter, side-by-side in the cockpit, was a dream come true for me,” Kamelia Zarka said. “I always knew Maria would be a fantastic pilot—she’s always been brilliant and professional—but sitting next to her as she flew the plane with such skill and ease still blew me away.”
Kamelia Zarka, born and raised in Tonga, started her aviation career as a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines in 1992 after moving to Hawaii with her husband. That year, Zarka experienced an aha-moment-flight during a round-trip flight from Honolulu to Pago Pago, American Samoa, with a stop in Tonga.
“I remember the captain called back to us [while flying over Tonga] and said that anyone who wants to sit up front [in the cockpit] is welcome to do so,” Zarka said. “I did and sat behind the first officer, and as the plane rolled down the runway, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ When I got home from that trip, I asked my husband what he thought about me becoming a pilot and he said I should go for it.”
Zarka quickly signed up for an introductory flight at a local flight school. She earned her private pilot certificate before taking a leave of absence from Hawaiian Airlines to pursue her instrument, commercial, multiengine, and flight instructor certificates. After seven years of time building and flying for regional carriers, Zarka was hired at Hawaiian Airlines as a flight engineer on a DC–10. She went on to become the first Tongan female to captain a commercial airline.
Maria Zarka started her flying career with Republic Airlines and was hired by Hawaiian Airlines two years later, in April 2022.
The two shared the cockpit of a Boeing 717 while operating several Neighbor Island flights on September 1.
“Everybody always tells me how amazing it is to fly with my mom and today I got to experience that,” Maria Zarka said. “She’s an amazing pilot and learning from her is learning from one of the best. Now I call her ‘Capt. Mom.’”
“I feel fortunate to have a mom who cares so much and has worked hard to pave the way for other females and me as the first Tongan female to captain a commercial airline. And now it’s my turn,” Maria Zarka continued. “I’m looking forward to continuing my mom’s legacy while making my own mark as a Hawaiian Airlines pilot.”