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Can the Middle East have more women pilots? This royal is on that mission

Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Marwan Al Maktoum – the first woman to pilot the AW609 tiltrotor – shares her vision to empower, educate and inspire more women.

Can the Middle East have more women pilots? This royal is on that mission
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

It’s not uncommon to see a woman in the control room of a plane. One would think being a pilot should have nothing to do with gender. Yet numbers tell a different story. 

Globally, 5% of pilots are women. In the Asia-Pacific and Middle East markets, the representation is a mere 1.6% and 2.1% of women in the cockpit; 1.42% of all captains are women, according to the International Society of Women Airlines Pilots. 

H.H. Sheikha Mozah Bint Marwan Al Maktoum is a leader trying to change those numbers. 

Hailing from the royal family of the UAE, she is currently serving as the first lieutenant pilot for Dubai Police Airwing. She says attracting women to the aviation sector is a multi-pronged effort that should start early. “Solid STEM programs could validate aviation as a career choice for young girls as early as primary school.” 

“Representation is vital. Telling stories of women aeronautical figures that have braved the skies will contribute to reframing the narrative mostly about men. It is equally crucial to create opportunities to experience the sector through mentorship and internship programs,” Sheikha Mozah says. 

CARVING A LEGACY 

Women’s history within the aviation industry dates back to the Second World War, when they played a pivotal role in aircraft testing, flying, and usage. 

Times have changed, industry dynamics have jumped decades, but more work to amp up representation is required. Sheikha Mozah is leveraging her influence and experience in the field to ignite this change. 

Through her project, Shehana – Women in Aviation Association, established in 2020, she aims to effect a lasting change. “I am involved with some interesting global projects dedicated to encouraging representation of girls and women in STEM subjects and leadership. I look forward to a future where the next revolutionary aircraft may be designed entirely by women.” 

There needs to be a shift in mindset for actual change to occur. “When I ask people to close their eyes and imagine a pilot, based on our default bias, more often than not, we visualize an image of a male pilot. We need more role models and representation so the next generation can have an unbiased imagination. I have an important role in creating that future and enabling those possibilities,” she adds.

BEYOND STEREOTYPES 

There’s a certain calm and determination in everything Sheikha Mozah says. When asked about her ambitions which aren’t glamorous, she says, “Glamor is not a word I would choose to describe anything I do.”

“The pursuit of dreams always comes with hard work, and while people see the accomplishment as an overnight success, that is just the peak of a mountain that took a lot of effort to climb.” 

There is nothing ordinary about her work. But Sheikha Mozah has always tried to look at challenges through the eyes of opportunity. “I love waking up early, checking the helicopter before taking off, and even patrolling when nothing out of the ordinary happens. It is a thrill for me because I get to fly that helicopter. 

“I have had the opportunity to pilot the AW609. It was not a challenge but more like an opportunity of a lifetime to make another dream come true. If your mind focuses on challenges, then you have to face the possibility of failure if something does not go according to the plan.”

EYES ON THE FUTURE 

When not seeking a thrill or the next challenge, Sheikha Mozah says, she spends time on focussed reflection. She believes “growing and cultivating the best version of oneself is a daily effort and requires commitment and focus.”

“I am trying to develop better habits and practices, learn more, improve existing approaches, and also look forward to continuing my education. I am exploring all my options. I wake up thinking there is a better version of me every day, and my job is to chase it through focused work and perseverance.”

Sheikha Mozah draws her inspiration from the leadership within the UAE. “I am constantly reminded that I was born privileged, and I should use my privilege to positively impact the people around me,” she says.

“One cannot sit still without taking action. I want to play my part, contributing my talents to the better future of my wonderful country and its youth,” she says. “Without our leaders and their support, I would have never been able to achieve my dreams in the aviation sector. With a deep sense of pride, I now serve my country.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East who writes on tech, design, and culture. More

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