The ‘sky’s the limit,’ says Aisha Al-Mansouri, the UAE’s first female A380 pilot

New horizons: Aisha Al-Mansouri, above, and her sister Mariam, the UAE’s first female fighter pilot, below. (AFP)
Updated 10 March 2019
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The ‘sky’s the limit,’ says Aisha Al-Mansouri, the UAE’s first female A380 pilot

  • International Women’s Day should be a marker for young girls across the region of how far women in the Middle East have come, says Al-Mansouri

DUBAI: As the UAE’s first female pilot of an A380, Aisha Al-Mansouri knows a thing or two about breaking glass ceilings.

She was just one of two female cadets when Etihad Airways first opened its training program in 2007 — and seven years later made history as the first Emirati woman to take to the cockpit of the world’s largest passenger airliner.

As International Women’s Day is marked across the globe, Al-Mansouri, a first officer for the UAE’s national airline, said the day should be a marker for young girls across the region of how far women in the Middle East have come. 

“The opportunities are growing and growing, especially in the region. The sky is the limit, really.”

While once aviation was a traditionally male-dominated profession in the Middle East, Al-Mansouri believes there are more opportunities for women, just as there are in any career.

“I think governments (in the region) have come to believe that women are vital for the development of society — in all sectors, in all different roles.”

Al-Mansouri’s career in aviation began by visiting an air show in Al Ain when she was 17. “They had an Etihad stand there and were talking about opening the cadet program and (I was) told if I was interested I should apply — and I did.”

Before joining the cadet program, Al-Mansouri had considered many traditional roles such as a doctor or teacher. The Emirati admitted she never thought about being a pilot, despite watching her brother Ali earn his flying credentials and join Abu Dhabi Police, and her sister, Maj. Mariam Al-Mansouri, become the UAE’s first female fighter pilot. 

When Al-Mansouri began the inaugural cycle of Etihad’s cadet program in 2007, she was one of just two women among 450 trainee pilots. “It was bit overwhelming, I had come from an all-girls school and then I had moved to this flight school to train alongside hundreds of men, but I think the way the management ran the program meant I felt at ease quickly.”

After graduating, Al-Mansouri worked as a second officer on the A320, before graduating to the A330 as a first officer. It was then she made her bid to fly on the A380. “My name was among a long list of candidates, so when my name was selected, I was so excited.”

Her inaugural flight on the Airbus was from Abu Dhabi to London in February 2014. “When we were doing our training (for the A380) we had never actually seen the aircraft; we had only been in the flights’ simulator. The cockpit size really doesn’t change when it comes to the real thing, but when I walked into the aircraft for the first time, I was like ‘Wow, this is big.” And the number of props and tubes and buttons you have to check — and the size of the plane — it was like flying a building.”

Al-Mansouri has since racked up countless flights to long-haul destinations. “I still love it, every single time,” she said.

So what is next for the high-flying Emirati? As senior first officer she is second-in-command to the captain, a role she hopes to achieve within the next four years. And she would one day like to use her master’s degree, which she obtained last year in airline operation management.  “It opened my eyes to the importance of strategic planning,” she said.

 


UN presents new plan for Yemen pullback from Hodeidah

Updated 58 min 18 sec ago
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UN presents new plan for Yemen pullback from Hodeidah

  • The redeployment of forces was agreed in December under a ceasefire deal reached in Sweden that offered the best hope in years of moving toward an end to the war
  • The UN envoy's statement did not give a date for the start of the pullback, which would mark the first step towards de-escalation

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations will present a new plan for the pullback of forces from Yemen's flashpoint city of Hodeidah following talks with the government and the Houthis, a UN envoy said Tuesday.
The redeployment of forces was agreed in December under a ceasefire deal reached in Sweden that offered the best hope in years of moving toward an end to the war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
"Following constructive discussions with both parties, there is significant progress towards an agreement to implement phase one of the redeployments of the Hodeida agreement," said a statement from Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy for Yemen.
"Operational details will be presented to the parties in the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) for endorsement shortly," he added.
The UN envoy's statement did not give a date for the start of the pullback, which would mark the first step towards de-escalation.
Griffiths said he "looks forward to the swift endorsement of the plan."
The United Nations announced a deal on the two-stage pullback from Hodeidah city and its ports on February 17, but the redeployment failed to materialize on the ground.
UN diplomats said the Houthis were refusing to pull away from the ports as part of the first stage. 
Griffiths and head of the RCC, Danish General Michael Lollesgaard, have been holding talks with all sides to overcome the final hurdles.
The Red Sea port of Hodeidah is the entry point for the bulk of imported goods and relief aid to Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world's worst humanitarian conflict.