RIYADH: Meet Capt. Afrah Al-Harbi, a 22-year-old AlUla native, who has piloted hot-air balloons 55 times in Saudi Arabia, after becoming the first Saudi woman to obtain a license to navigate these aircraft.
Al-Harbi was trained by the Saudi Arabian Hot-Air Ballooning Federation while pursuing an education in Hotels and Tourism at Taibah University in AlUla.
The federation officially opened its headquarters in AlUla in May 2019, a few months after the success of the inaugural Hot-Air Balloon Festival during the Winter at Tantora Festival earlier that year, when 100 balloons lit up the skies on several nights. The festival presented a blueprint for adventure tourism in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Harbi’s story began at this festival.
There is no better way to experience, enjoy and appreciate AlUla’s majestic landscape and natural beauty than from the air.
Afrah Al-Harbi, Hot-air balloon pilot
“When hot-air ballooning started in AlUla, I saw the balloons but I never thought I would be able to fly one of them,” Al-Harbi told Arab News recently.
When the opportunity to learn arose, Al-Harbi asked herself: “Why not me?” After an initial interview, she was accepted into the training program.
Al-Harbi, one of eight children, said her family has been supportive throughout her journey to make history and become the first Saudi woman to be granted a pilot’s license.
“I have no fear inside me,” she added.
With more than 55 flights to date, Al-Harbi said she would not mind pursuing it as a fulltime career but for now ballooning is a hobby.
Fellow captains Abdulrahman Al-Wohaibi and Hussain Makkawi, who trained at the federation with Al-Harbi, are also amongst the first licensed Saudi hot-air balloon pilots.
Al-Harbi is one of the Saudi pilots designated to fly guests at the AlUla Skies Festival. This is an annual celebration that includes hot-air balloon rides, helicopter tours and other outdoor adventures and attractions near the historic Hegra monument.
“There is no better way to experience, enjoy and appreciate AlUla’s majestic landscape and natural beauty than from the air,” she said.