Lankan politician to propose govt subsidy for Haj pilgrims

Updated 22 January 2015
0

Lankan politician to propose govt subsidy for Haj pilgrims

A leading Sri Lankan Muslim politician plans to propose that the newly elected government of the island nation subsidize citizens going on Haj.
Azath Salley, the former deputy mayor of Colombo and a member of the new government’s task team to implement its program over the first 100 days, told Arab News on Thursday he plans to deliver the proposal soon to Minister for Muslim Religious Affairs Mohammed Hazeem.
Speaking from Makkah, where he is on Umrah with his wife Reinoza, Salley said the Haj scheme in Sri Lanka does not benefit lower middle-class families. “The Haj package shot up last year to Rs650,000 (SR18,508) which average Muslims cannot afford,” he said.
He said that the scheme would possibly be implemented this year and benefit half of all pilgrims from Sri Lanka. He would also urge the government to increase the Haj quota, which was cut from 6,700 to 2,200 last year.
“Muslims will be given their due place under the present regime.” Minorities such as Tamils and Muslims would be treated with respect and their rights protected, he said. He said Minorities were living “in fear and insecurity” in the country. “Muslims cannot forget the orchestrated attacks on them in Alutgama and Beruwella,” he said.
He lamented that the Waqaf Board and Muslim schools on the island were neglected by the previous regime. “We will restore them to their pristine glory,” he said.
Commenting on the recent stunning election victory of President Maithripala Sirisena, Salley said that God never takes the side of persons who are engaged in unjust acts. “It was emancipation from misrule, dictatorship and totalitarianism.”
“President Sirisena emerged victorious through a popular mandate given by the majority Buddhists and minorities on the island.” He said the people showed that they do not support corruption, nepotism and dictatorship. The new president received backing from people of all faiths including Buddhists, Tamils and Muslims.
Salley said Tamil-speaking people in the country have placed great faith in the new president.
He said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would help to ensure good governance.
He said the mandate of the voters ended the culture of violence. “No man will be above the law under the new regime,” he said.
Salley said he had come on Umrah to thank the Almighty for the blessed opportunity that the country now has to create good governance.


Flying high as first Saudi pilot of world’s largest aircraft

Updated 53 min 42 sec ago
0

Flying high as first Saudi pilot of world’s largest aircraft

  • Wesam Sameer Al-Najjar, also the youngest KSA national to fly the A380, has big dreams
  • Al-Najjar has flown the A318, A319, A320, A330 and A330 Cargo aircraft, among others

ABU DHABI: As the first Saudi A380 pilot in the world, senior first officer Wesam Sameer Al-Najjar has already spent nearly 4,000 hours in the cockpit and flown to more than 100 countries, all before his 29th birthday later this month.

Having joined Etihad Airways in 2013, Al-Najjar has flown the A318, A319, A320, A330 and A330 Cargo aircraft, among others. It was in 2016 that the Saudi national was selected to fly the A380 as the world’s first Saudi pilot of the world’s largest aircraft. To date, he is still the youngest Saudi national to have flown the Airbus. 

Among his biggest achievements was being selected to co-pilot Etihad’s flagship Year of Zayed-branded A380 on a special flight to Jeddah to mark the Kingdom’s National Day on Sept. 23 this year.

“It was such an honor to fly this flight,” he said. “Taking it all the way to Jeddah, the first Etihad A380 to fly this route. It was great to be part of a movement that reflects a great relationship between the two countries.

“Flying an A380 is incredible; you fly a cruising speed of 575mph all the way into the sky. To fly such a big aircraft motivates me to learn more, to study more, to achieve more. To know more and more about the world of aviation.”

When he received the email to say he had been selected as an A380 pilot, Al-Najjar was just 26.

“It was a huge honor and a dream come true and something that continues to motivate me,” said Al-Najjar. “I was very proud of myself. It was my dream.

“I remember receiving an email through flight operations. I just felt so happy. To fly the biggest aircraft in the world with destinations to London, Paris, New York and Sydney — it was a true honor and a dream — and I would say a large part was due to my family support and Etihad’s support, the UAE government’s support and the Saudi government’s support.”

One of 10 children, with four older brothers and five sisters, Al-Najjar said the first person that he called was his uncle, having lost both his father and mother. “He told me he was very happy and he is very proud of me,” said Al-Najjar. “He has supported me all my life.”

Growing up in western Saudi Arabia, in the city of Madinah, Al-Najjar said that he first envisioned being an engineer, but in his late teens decided being a pilot would be a “the perfect job” — and to pursue his dream after graduating from high school.

After a brief spell in London to brush up on his English, Al-Najjar moved to the UAE. There  he enrolled in EDIC Horizon International Flight Academy, a flight school in Al Ain, when he was just 19. He trained alongside his older brother Wadi Al-Najjar, now 33, who is also with Etihad, co-piloting the A320. 

“There was only myself and my brother and a girl who was from Saudi Arabia,” he recalled. “I was one of the youngest guys in the group.”

After 18 months in the academy, which also saw him train in Bahrain, Al-Najjar secured his pilot credentials at the age of 21 and joined Etihad shortly afterwards.

The lifestyle of his chosen profession is the most rewarding aspect of his job. “You fly everywhere,” he said. “You fly cold weather, warm weather. It is a wonderful job; it makes you learn more about different cultures by seeing many places in the world. Every flight is a new experience; new cultures, different flight crew, different personalities, different countries. And you really gain a family; sitting with a co-pilot for 16 hours and traveling with the flight crew; it really is a bonding experience.”

Paris, London and the south of France remain his favorite destinations, but Al-Najjar said a stand-out trip was working with Etihad partner airline Air Seychelles on the A320, where he had a “wonderful time” exploring the archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean.

“I also loved the Maldives, China and exploring West Africa and Uganda. I have been to many, many countries, more than 100.”

In his career there are few places Al-Najjar, who co-pilots four flights a month, has yet to fly to.

“I am so grateful to Etihad airlines; it is one of the biggest airlines in the world and the fastest growing. They have a great team, and I am happy to be in the UAE and feel like I am in my home country. There is a really deep relationship between my country and the UAE government. And I would like to thank the UAE government, together with Saudi’s government, for their joint support and helping me reach all my achievements. I would love one day to meet all them. It would be such an honor.”

Despite the sheer size of the plane and being responsible for the 500-plus passengers on board, Al-Najjar said that he never gets nervous before a take-off or landing. “It is always two people in the cockpit, so we take care of the responsibilities from point A to point B. But I never feel nervous. If you are knowledgeable and know what you are doing, you are not nervous. The difficult — but best part — of the flight is the landing.”

So what is next for Al-Najjar? “It would be great to also be one of the top guys — whether here in Etihad or back Saudi Arabia’s airlines — to play a major role in aviation. But maybe one day I will even get to fly the royal flights for Saudi Arabia or the UAE. That would be a real honor. I hope it will be an achievement in the future.”

He also said it would be “a dream” to co-pilot a flight with his brother, and one day he aims to train other young aspiring pilots. “It would be great to be in management, and I think that is a consideration for the future.”

Any words of wisdom for aspiring pilots? “You have to be responsible. It is a big role. You have to be really keen to learn more. But I would say it is one of the best jobs in the world, so I would recommend people to join the aviation industry. I think many young Saudis would love to be pilots, and they are studying to do so — especially now there is a new cadet program for Saudi National and the establishment of a new flight academy, the CAE Oxford Authorized Training Center in Dammam. I think there are many Saudi youth — women and men — who want to fly and I hope one day more will do so.”