Saudi pilot speaks about how she hit the glass ceiling

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Hanadi Al-Hindi went to America and completed her stay at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and then returned to the Kingdom in 2013, officially applying for a commercial license. She was given a week to prepare for her three written exams, and when she went to perform her tests she passed with flying colors. (Supplied)
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My entire life has been dedicated to this tiny little license,” Hanadi Al-Hindi said on her Saudi Commercial Pilot License (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 01 November 2018

Saudi pilot speaks about how she hit the glass ceiling

  • Al-Hindi is the first female to fly with a Saudi commercial pilot license
  • Al-Hindi hasn’t been able to fly locally yet, so instead of staying idle she chose to teach people how to fly, or at least to supplement them with the basics

JEDDAH: Hanadi Al-Hindi hasn’t flown for five years, but her name will be remembered as the first Saudi woman to fly with a Saudi commercial pilot license.
Al-Hindi’s late father Zakaria Al-Hindi was her inspiration. He wanted to become a pilot but he couldn’t achieve his dream due to finances — so he made sure he fully supported his daughter.
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal then took Al-Hindi under his wing, backing her as the first Saudi female to pursue piloting. “What I faced when I flew back in 2012 with Al-Waleed, American women had undergone in the ‘70s. ATC (air traffic control) used to dismiss my calls for landing, just because I am a woman. But the prince told me to keep persevering and to keep on calling until I was heard, and then they did; they even started calling me Captain Hanadi, and whenever I was landing the prince’s private plane they’d secure my landing before any other plane.” That wasn’t before many trials and errors involving her mentioning them on their social media platforms to recognize her and acknowledge her existence.
Her journey started in 2002, and since then she has dedicated 16 years of her life to aviation.
When at high school Al-Hanadi had a talk with her father about what she wanted to do, her ambition was straightforward: “I don’t want to be a teacher or a doctor — I want something extraordinary, something only men can do in this country; I want to challenge men.”
When she embarked on life as a university student, she considered majoring in English, as she dreamed of speaking the language fluently like the Englishmen and women she watched on television — and so she did. Then during a visit to Jeddah, an airplane flew past and her father asked her what she thought about becoming a pilot.
The first thing Al-Hanadi considered was whether or not she would be studying abroad; she recalls the only thing her father asked of her before shipping her off to Jordan was for a photo of her in her uniform holding her license to showcase to his friends so he could proudly say “Meet my daughter the pilot.”
“My mother used to collapse every time I left for Jordan, and an ambulance would have to take her to the hospital — she took my departure the hardest. My family gave up so much for my success, and that is why I cannot ever abandon aviation. They did the impossible for me, and I won’t let them down. My duty (to them) was to succeed,” she said.
She believes that no parents could supersede what her parents did, going above and beyond, to ensure her success. She said that at the time it was not about being the first or second or last pilot — she just wanted to turn her father’s dream into reality.
“At the time, my dad faced more obstacles than I did, having a daughter bold enough to pursue aviation in the early 2000s. He worked at a courthouse for the Ministry of Justice — director of the Office of the President of the General Court in Makkah — so you can imagine how much backlash he went through.”
Al-Hanadi’s father sent her to Jordan during his first year of retirement in 2002, and many retaliated when the media began broadcasting her story by asking him to bring her back. Her father responded by saying “If you spent a penny on her education, bring her back, but since I’m the one who’s paying for her education then it is settled.
“He was told to not have me write his name on any outlets, to act as if he wasn’t my dad, but when I asked him if he wanted me to exclude his name from any documentation, he told me: I forbid it. I want everyone to know that you are my daughter.”
In 2003, her name was all over the media, and it resurfaced when she signed a contract with Al-Waleed bin Talal in 2004. She graduated in 2005 from the Middle East Academy for Commercial Aviation before falling into a slump until 2013, during which she kept herself busy by trying to obtain a commercial pilot license in Saudi. When she obtained it in 2015, it caused some ruckus, but not as much as it would have done today.
While attempting to acquire a Saudi license, Al-Hindi faced rejection following her return to Saudi Arabia after graduating.
Instead of succumbing to hopelessness, she decided to travel to the UK and continue studying where piloting is at its toughest. Hanadi’s journey was halted, however, when she was undergoing medical checks for flying and doctors discovered kidney stones that required immediate surgical removal if she wished to acquire the class 1 medical needed to fly. The surgery resulted in complications, keeping Hanadi out of action for two years. In 2009, her doctor told her to forget about her dreams when her kidney condition was found to be critical.
A year later, doctors were forced to remove it after several attempts to save it.
A day after the surgery, Al-Hindi received a call from a Saudi captain, congratulating her on obtaining a first-class medical pass. At first, she was dubious, but he reassured her that many captains who were born with a single kidney were certified and that she should recover and apply for the medical certificate. She applied for both the American and Saudi’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) class 1 medical at the same time, as they both required similar documents. The American certificate wasn’t issued immediately and required further medical reports, however, GACA issued the first class 1 medical certificate to her in 2011.
She went to America and completed her stay at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and then returned to the Kingdom in 2013, officially applying for a commercial license. She was given a week to prepare for her three written exams, and when she went to perform her tests she passed with flying colors. Her flight test was performed in Jordan. She was observed by two proctors, flying for two hours rather than the one her male counterparts undertook, but she did not budge. After the flight, the examiner asked her how she thought she did. “I told him, I don’t think I’ve ever performed as well as I did today — I think you need to hand me my license right now. And he did.” After that, she was able to fly Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.
Recounting her lessons to her father — which was a request he made before she left to Jordan — may have encouraged the love of aviation teaching in Al-Hindi at a younger age; being a focused, studious individual must have also helped her as a year ago she began teaching written aviation exam material.
“Saving money, saving time,” is her motto when it comes to teaching the written aspects needed before any aviation exam, a job she is currently passionately performing at the Pilot Training Center (PTC) on Prince Sultan Road in Jeddah.
“This makes it easier for a lot of to-be-pilots. They can study the written material here, which helps them immensely so that when they take the test in the US, they do not have to worry about it at all. Besides that, it is cheaper for them, and they’d be doing it in their environment, studying and preparing then finishing classes in time to have dinner with their families.”
Al-Hindi hasn’t been able to fly locally yet, so instead of staying idle she chose to teach people how to fly, or at least to supplement them with the basics.
“The book I teach here is the same one they cover in every airline and school, but I don’t just give it to my students to memorize. I summarize the gist and point out to them what they will use when they practice piloting,” she said.
“When I teach my students, the stakes I place on them are high — I tell them ‘your grade is my grade’ and that their effort reflects my work and what I’ve poured into them. When asked about who taught them, it will be my name they utter, and I want them to always remember me well.”

INTERVIEW: Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, the prince who wants everyone to be part of Saudi Arabia’s forward trajectory

Updated 25 May 2019

INTERVIEW: Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, the prince who wants everyone to be part of Saudi Arabia’s forward trajectory

  • The Saudi royal is a venture capitalist and a key supporter of entrepreneurship in the Kingdom

JEDDAH: Arab News recently got up close and personal with Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, a name that is often associated with successful business, entrepreneurial and humanitarian ventures.

Khaled bin Alwaleed has never conformed to the typical image of what a royal should be like, and he says this was down to his parents.

“It stems from how I grew up and what my parents instilled in me. They really emphasized how important it is to connect with people no matter what position in life they hold.”

He said that his mother used to get on with everyone in their household, from kitchen staff to gardeners, on a very personal level, giving each person importance and inclusion. “That connection — that characteristic — is probably one of the best examples of how I grew up.

“Sometimes I don’t act in the ‘proper’ manner that people expect. I’m here to do what I believe is right, and what I believe is right is being myself.”

He admits that in the past he had struggled with the conflict of how he should act to suit the persona expected of him. 

He admits that he struggled in the past to manage people’s expectations of him.

“I thought I should act in a certain way, do certain things that were expected of me, but were really alien to my personality and what I wanted to do for myself. In the end, what has worked best for me is being as honest and as genuine as possible.”

The Investor 

Prince Khaled founded his holding and investment company, KBW Ventures, in 2014, and he has made it his purpose to invest in a broad range of businesses, from technology start-ups to successful companies.

Prince Khaled doesn’t consider himself a renowned entrepreneur — he says calling him this would steal the thunder from everyone who started from scratch. He thinks of himself as more of a venture capitalist who supports entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Before taking on a project, what he looks for most is the drive, knowledge, and commitment of the entrepreneur. 

“I look at how well they understand how to scale a particular business, and the business itself. It is important to know how well the founder (of the business) knows the industry, the numbers, competition, and how to best showcase their product or service and put it in front of the right audience.”


Name: Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud

Date of Birth: 21 April 1978

Education: Bachelor in business from the University of New Haven.

Current position: • Founder and CEO of KBW Ventures • Founder and Chairman of KBW Investments.

His advice to local businesses (and this applies to young entrepreneurs, as well) is to do their homework on the industry of the start-up, the potential verticals that exist, scalability, and to assess everything through due diligence before jumping into a project — at least that’s how he runs things.

“We should all want to be part of Saudi’s forward trajectory. My ideal situation is to put Saudi Arabia on the map as having the most successful track record for venture-backed companies. KBW Ventures has thankfully had a very good start but it doesn’t stop there. I want to partner with more Saudis to expose our entrepreneurs and our venture capitalists to international markets and international venture-backed companies. We’re not just an oil-rich country; we’re rich in entrepreneurship, we’re rich in innovation, and hopefully, quickly getting richer in terms of our history with venture-backed companies.”

He thinks the future is in the hands of the youth,  basing this view on how Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has changed things in Saudi Arabia.

“Mohammed bin Salman is the face of Saudi youth and its future — he has mobilized and invigorated the younger generation like no one before. I’ve never seen so many young people looking for a way to support the country and get involved — it is the best time for us as Saudis.”

Prince Khaled with King Salman

Prince Khaled has much more on his agenda, focusing on causes where he can make a difference such as “climate change, sustainability and animal welfare,” he said.

With KBW Ventures, he hopes to act as an ambassador to a healthier, more sustainable society.

The prince is also an enthusiastic humanitarian and vocal vegan, who has chosen to apply his beliefs to his lifestyle first.

“I started as a vegetarian many years ago and gradually transitioned my lifestyle completely; I’ve talked extensively about the health benefits and I think if people even adopt reducetarian measures it is great for the planet and for overall health and wellbeing.”

He said that at this point, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is no longer an option but a necessity. “I really feel the need to incorporate physical activity into my day and it’s matched with clean eating. No matter how busy you are, your health is the most necessary aspect as obviously if that isn’t a priority things fall apart very quickly. I work out daily and I eat well; that’s what fuels me to do what I do.

He has noticed the onslaught of GCC individuals going plant-based. He thinks that they are motivated by a combination of factors: the desire to live healthier and to live more humanely, in terms of being kinder to animals and reducing our damage to the earth. He is fully supportive of the General Sports Authority Chairman Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal with its mission of promoting mass sports participation and working on educating the health care system and citizens in general. “I’m not naïve enough to think the world is going to go vegan, it is not practical. Saudi is a very meat-centric culture; for the Saudi health problems of obesity and heart-related issues, I really encourage everyone to try a reducetarian diet by incorporating more fresh vegetables, legumes, basically just expand your eating horizons.”



Saudi Humane Society 

Prince Khaled’s latest move on a very resolute chessboard is taking on the role of the presidency at the Saudi Humane Society (Rifq, or SHS) in January 2019. He told Arab News: “I happily accepted the role as I believe I can add value there.”

Acting as one of the first NGOs in Saudi, SHS was dormant for the past few years, he said. Under his leadership, SHS now has two, five and 10-year goals across various tenets. 

SHS will be introducing TNR [Trap-Neuter-Release] programs, as some Saudi cities have issues with strays. 

“This issue wasn’t dealt with humanely in the past, and the important thing is that moving forward we work toward preventing these incidents from happening again. 

The Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs, HE Eng. Abdullatif bin Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh, banned animal poisoning; a noteworthy first step in the right direction, followed by TNR.”

SHS will also work with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), on the legislation to prevent the import of exotic animals, as well as with other organizations to deal with exotic animals in Saudi and returning them to the wild.

“We’ll be collaborating with the government on recommendations on how to best operate the sanctuaries, introduce animals back into the wild, and also educate the public on the importance and absolute necessity of biodiversity,” he said.

SHS also led a campaign recruiting young volunteers in different regions of the Kingdom to participate in rescuing animals. Prince Khaled is a firm believer in the youth’s effect on the advancement of society.

“Activating our youth across everything we do is how we really activate Saudi, whether it is for animal welfare or for our work with health and wellness. There has been a slew of volunteers coming to donate their time, effort and their emotion to these animals. We are so blessed to have a relationship with these people, they’re passionate and they really care. They will work on a TNR program in Madina, starting from the university in Taibah where they’ll trap, neuter then relocate the animals in other areas.”



A program that traps stray cats, spays or neuters them, and then returns them to where they were found or, if the place isn’t secure, relocates them to a better home.