Remembering Senja Robey

Aviator Senja Robey
image: courtesy of the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame

Senja Robey, an Australian aviation icon, professional pilot and extraordinary instructor, died recently, aged 93.

She had been inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame in November 2014 for her achievements.

Senja began her flying training at the Royal Aero Club of NSW in March 1949. After being sent solo within a month, she obtained her private pilot licence six months later.

One of a handful of original members of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association (AWPA), Senja worked at the then de Havilland Aircraft Company in Sydney, where she studied part-time to gain her commercial pilot licence in 1953.

After obtaining a flight instructor rating nine years later, she became an instructor at the Illawarra Flying School located at Bankstown Airport, where her husband, Keith, was the chief flying instructor.

At the time, the Illawarra Flying School was one of the largest commercial schools in Australia. By 1969, Senja had accrued around 3500 hours of instructing, with some of her students going on to become airline captains.

Greg Hood, Chief Commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), had known Senja for several years, having been introduced to her through AWPA.

‘She exuded an aura of yesteryear—of having been there and done that, before many of us were born, but with modesty and humility,’ he said.

‘On behalf of the ATSB, I would like to extend my sincere condolences to Senja’s family, her friends and the wider aviation community who are mourning her passing.’

Rising to national president of AWPA in the 1970s, Senja assisted fellow aviator Deborah Wardley to challenge Ansett Airlines for her right to become an airline pilot. The Wardley case opened the door for other female pilots in Australia.

‘Senja was renowned for her ability to fly with extraordinary accuracy and steadiness,’ Mr Hood said. ‘She held endorsements on approximately 60 aircraft types, both single-engine and multi-engine, ranging from the Tiger Moth to Aero Commanders and Aerostars. Senja Robey was a remarkable aviatrix whose life, achievements and almost 14,000 flight hours needs to be remembered, savoured and celebrated.’

In a career spanning more than 60 years, Senja was awarded the Order of the British Empire Medal for her contribution to aviation in 1976. Giving a lifetime of service to aviation, she will be remembered throughout the industry for her high level of professionalism and generosity in providing practical guidance to less experienced and potential aviators.


  1. I had the pleasure to receive several PPL lessons in 1966 from both Senja and Keith Robey, when they were instructing at Illawarra Flying School at Bankstown Airport. Both very professional aviators and great teachers.

    David Bell
    Australian Business Aviation Association Inc.
    Sydney, NSW

  2. Thanks for the tribute to Senja. She was a very level-headed capable instructor and pleasant person to boot… It was something to see her climb into a Cherokee at Camden while she was well into her 80s! My memory of Senja goes back to talking with her back in the early 1960’s at Sydney Airport when Illawarra flew the world’s shortest regular air service between Bankstown and Sydney airports.

  3. I was a student of Senjas back there in the Mid-60s. She would often invite me into the 172 for a parcel delivery flight Bk-Syd return. Awesome. Those were the days when you just taxied up near the terminals, got out, walked through the wire gate and went to the staff canteen and had a snack. No cards, but then again no terrorists.
    I learnt a lot. Eg, never tell FS when you have an engine problem until absolutely necessary.
    Did occasionally see her at Camden.

  4. Did my CPL at Illawarra during 1967. MRS. ROBEY (as she always appeared in my log book} was a very nice person . I did most of my flying training with her , and being supervised, by her . I can also recall a BK-SYD – BK mail flight.. Senja must have been about the only instructess at that time.

  5. Dead set legend. Smart, gifted and wicked. 14 thousand hours instructing. So glad to have been a small part of the journey. AWPA conferences will never be the same….

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