Originally printed in the March 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.
When I was a child and traveled with my family, I always wanted to be in the cockpit. I used to sit there during the takeoffs and landings. I loved being there and asking the pilots questions; I never felt scared.
Traveling has always been a part of my life, so I don’t have any notable memories of my first experience of being in a plane, although I do remember the first time I flew anything – a helicopter when I was 12 years old. I was hooked after my first lesson in the UK, so I started taking more lessons and progressed into aerobatics in small planes. I’ve always enjoyed the rush I get from flying and on my family vacations I took time to enjoy adventurous activities that would give me the same feeling of excitement – including skydiving. That’s how I realized I wanted to pursue flying as a profession. I started taking helicopter lessons and enrolled in a skydiving accelerated course. I didn’t complete the entire course but the highest jump I achieved was from around 4 300m. Right before my high school exams, I was certain I wanted to be a pilot, so I took the subjects I needed to qualify for aviation school. I passed my exams and enrolled at CAE Oxford Aviation Academy, which is one of the best schools for a cadet pilot in training.
I was only 17, turning 18, when I joined the academy. It was there that I met the Emirates cadets, discovered more about the company, and became interested in working there. I did my ground schooling and halfway through my course, flew back home to Dubai for interviews and tests with Emirates. I was then offered a role. I had done around 200 hours of flight training at Oxford. With Emirates, cadets must complete 118 sectors, which are flights from point A to point B, to complete the training. Cadets must also practice on simulators corresponding to the aircrafts that they will fly professionally. I finished at the academy in 2015 and continued my training with Emirates, becoming a first officer last year.
I don’t think my drive to pursue this path came from any specific role models around me; it was just something I really wanted to do. I am blessed to have a family that is supportive of my choices, even though my mother was worried at first. It’s not very common for women in my family to work but I am happy to be part of a group of women who pursue their careers with passion. I am proud to be a part of the current movement in the region that strives for the inclusion of women in the workplace, which leads to them taking a larger and more equal part in the fabric of our society.
Being part of the royal family didn’t make my journey any easier. I had to go through the same things everyone else had to; there was no difference. My wider community has also been supportive and it’s always encouraging to see their comments and feedback. I have drawn much of my inspiration and drive from them. I have worked hard to get to where I am and I hope to be a role model for other women, and an embodiment of what hard work can achieve. I hope this growth of empowerment will continue and I hope to be part of the chain of positive changes to come.
I have been blessed to play my part in a country that has been at the forefront of women’s empowerment in the region. We are fortunate to have leadership that has recognized the importance of integrating women into central roles that are part of future planning and development. This vision has allowed women to pursue careers such as aviation. Now it is up to everyone else to be a part of this positive movement and devote their time and energy to inspire future generations. Female empowerment leads to the benefit of society as a whole.
It gives me great pleasure to be a pilot in what has been stereotyped as a male profession. But I’ve never felt like I’ve been treated any differently to my male colleagues. Everyone is equal in the cockpit. The most significant hurdles I’ve had to overcome included completing ground school and adapting to the unique structure and routine of my line of work. It took a while to find stability in the instability of timings, traveling, and lifestyle. For example, flying through the night took some getting used to, but I have a routine now. I train when I’m not flying, either by running or playing polo. It has helped me to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Once you’ve adapted to the logistics of flying, you’re sorted. Everything is normal again.
I love the freedom of being airborne. The feeling of soaring above the Earth is still one of the most exciting aspects of my job. Imagine having the cockpit as your office window – you are always guaranteed the best view in the world. My favorite flight so far was one to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The crew was great and the atmosphere was amazing. We went out to do some sightseeing and visited a few temples. On the flight back, there was a meteor shower, so we watched shooting stars all the way back to Dubai, counting more than 20 of them. I cannot see myself flying any of my family’s private flights any time soon; you also won’t see me skydiving or doing aerobatics in Dubai. However, I will go back to doing tricks and rolls, just like I used to do back in the UK, but in a two-seater aerobatic plane, an Extra EA-300. I still enjoy it as a hobby.
I am unsure of what my future holds, although I do not like to impose any limitations on myself. I am following my career path at the moment. I will always be flying and riding horses. I do not see myself giving up either. I think you must always follow your dreams, and have the patience and persistence to turn them into your reality. It is imperative that you never give up on something you want.
As told to Alexandria Gouveia