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Female pilots are living the dream

Posted 28 August 2011 · Add Comment

Women in the Middle East are flying high as more and more female pilots earn their wings. Liz Moscrop reports.

Alia Twal is feisty. At 24 she has earned her seat with Royal Jordanian Airlines after flying with Mideast Aviation Academy as a flight instructor.

She said: “We had a careers day at school and I knew then that I wanted to be a pilot. I finished my training in Jordan to become a chief flying instructor and became the youngest female pilot in the Middle East. I had students my age and older than me.”

Although some students were “a bit nervous” the first time they went up with her, they soon came to trust her. She explained: “Even if you are female it has nothing to do with your job. Aviation is not a male world. If we have the skills we can fly a plane. By the time students came for the second time they felt comfortable.”

Twal has just taken over the governorship of the Middle East branch of female pilots’ networking group, the 99s, from veteran pilot Yvonne Trueman. Twal said: “Living in the Middle East we are engulfed in a fast-moving culture that is yearning for change.  There is an environment that is full of people who are open to change and are seeking to experience life; more so now, than ever before.”

Trueman agreed: “Women in this region are totally serious about aviation when they enter it. They go in to be professional pilots and they succeed. They are determined and feisty.”

Twal added: “This culture is rich in issues of politics, religion, gender and so much more. These issues have caused a wave of generations that are hungry to make a difference and influence this world. I am a part of that wave and that is why I wanted to play a key role in the 99s. All of these issues directly affect aviation.” 

Her role as governor means that she is helping female aviators in the Middle East get exposure to ways they can grow and develop.

Twal believes that the networking gives them a voice, “to unify with those who can help them learn about who they can become”.

She continued: “Since I have become governor, I have brought eight members to the 99s and, in the process, have unified these women and empowered them in their own community. They are developing relationships and interacting for advice and assistance. We are all looking forward to a bright future of Arabian pilots and we are all hoping to open doors for the women to come.”

There are 27 members of the Arabian section of the 99s, stretching from Egypt down to Oman. The region now has more members than Austria, Brazil, UK, Far East, Finland, France, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Norway and Russia.

The new members include Captain Adelle Nahas and Deema Saber, a first officer in Royal Jordanian Airlines.

There’s also Captain Mavis Uzzaizia, the third rated female pilot in Jordan who started flying in 1993, as well as Captain Bassmah Bani Ahmad, the first female glider pilot in the Middle East who started her flying in 2005. She was only the second flight instructor in Jordan and is chief pilot for the Royal Aero Sports Club of Jordan.

Captain Carol Rabadi is also one of the new recruits. She is the second rated airline captain in Jordan and started in 1999 with Royal Jordanian Airlines.

Samar Oran, the second rated female pilot in Jordan is also now a member. She has been flying since 1976, joined Royal Jordanian in 1978 and was the first Muslim Arab pilot to cross the Atlantic.

Bahrain-based Trueman said: “As past governor, I took the mantle with just seven female pilots from Saudi, who worked with their husbands within Aramco. When they left and went back to the States, they stayed loyal to the section and, to this day, still remain members.”

Trueman recalled her earlier flying days in Bahrain. She said: “When I first arrived in the 1970s, general flying was very small and I used to hire an aircraft out of Dubai, file an international flight plan and manage to do a lot of flying, including an epic trip to Dhahran – probably one of the first for a lady pilot at that time.” 

Airlines in the Middle East will no doubt eye the 99s with interest as they are hiring women in droves.

This June Etihad Airways celebrated the success of its first Emirati female to graduate from the airline’s cadet programme as a co-pilot. Salma Al Baloushi operated her first flight as a first officer on Thursday, June 9, on flight EY 091 from Abu Dhabi to Athens. Captain Richard Hill, chief operations officer said: “Salma is a leader in our expanding female Emirati community and will be an example for her colleagues to follow.”

Back in 2007 Al Baloushi joined Etihad as part of the airline’s second group of cadet pilots. She completed her initial studies at the Horizon International Flight Academy in Al Ain, followed by a further two years of training,

She and Aisha Al Mansoori were Etihad’s first two female pilots.

Al Baloushi said: “I am just stunned to be living my dream. It was such an honour to be awarded the rank of first officer. We all worked extremely hard to reach this point and my family, who have fully supported me from day one, are extremely proud of me. I can only hope my accomplishment encourages many of my Emirati sisters and brothers to push the boundaries and reach their goals.”

Etihad has five UAE national female pilots training to fly for the airline as well as a strong track record in promoting women. Last October it hired its first female captain, Sophie Blanchard from France. She joined Etihad in 2007 as a first officer, after flying for Etihad Crystal Cargo with Air Atlanta. She said: “It is a great privilege to be the first woman to take full command of a commercial flight. The company has been very supportive in my aim to become a captain.”

Two other women keen to promote female aviation in the Middle East are Kinda Sarrage, business development director for Ayla Aviation Academy in Jordan, and Carol Ronan-Heath, who established a regional branch of the International Aviation Women’s Association (IAWA) in Dubai. The branch now boasts more than 100 local members.

Sarrage is looking to promote women working in the aviation industry while, as part of the team that buys engines for Emirates, Ronan-Heath believes a local branch of IAWA will encourage other women to enter the industry and develop their careers. She said: “I started in IAWA as a junior lawyer many years ago. I was invited to one of its conferences and was blown away by the motivational effect.”

• For more information on the 99s contact

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