By Anna Schaeffer
Rabat – At an academy in Saudi Arabia, the path to piloting will open to women for the very first time.
Hundreds of women have already sent in applications to study at Oxford Aviation Academy’s new branch in Dammam, the first of its kind open to aspiring female pilots in Saudi Arabia. The opportunity follows last month’s dismantling of a decades-long driving ban for women.
Starting in September, both male and female students will train under identical curricula for a three-year program comprised of both academic and practical components. The academy is the first to train men and women together, as well as both national and international students.
Oxford Aviation Academy’s MENA Region Director General Col. Othman Al-Mitairi said the academy hopes to eventually employ female instructors and aviation trainers.
“Only 40 percent of pilots in the Saudi job market are Saudis and only two of them are women,” he said. “We aspire to have 60,000 pilots and technicians over the next 20 years.”
Captain Hanadi Zakaria Hindi made history when she became Saudi Arabia’s first female pilot in 2006. Unable to study in her home country, she trained at Jordan’s Middle East Academy of Aviation. She did not receive certification to fly within Saudi Arabia until 2013.
“That was really difficult, being a pilot who cannot fly in her own country,” she said.
Now, Hindi flies exclusively in Saudi Arabia, saying that she feels responsible for paving the way for other Saudi women with dreams of piloting.
“That’s one of the reasons I won’t accept an offer from outside the country. As the first female pilot, if I leave, who is going to fight? Who is going to open the door for others?”
Academy applicant Dalal Yashar aspires to become a civil pilot. “People used to travel abroad (to study aviation), which was difficult for women more than men,” she explained.
“We are no longer living in the era where women were allowed (to work) in limited arenas. All avenues are now opened for women. If you have the appetite, you have the ability.”
The end of the Saudi female driving ban marked another step in a trend of social reform encouraged by Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Sources told Gulf News that the decision would “shatter taboos that stood for decades.”