Aviation Industry Is No Longer A Male Bastion

Capt. Hanadi Zakariya Hindi, the first Saudi woman pilot, will start flying one of the jets belonging to Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal, founder and chairman of Kingdom Holding Company (KHC), in mid-2007 following her completion of an advance pilot proficiency training program.

This will make the 26-year-old woman the first accredited female Saudi pilot, although she will still need to be driven by a male chauffeur to the airport.

When this fact was pointed out to this Makkah resident, she laughed it off. “I am busy building my flying hours and will be attending a short-term course to equip myself with more intimate knowledge of the jet owned by Prince Alwaleed,” said Hindi by telephone. “I am proud of myself and my family for supporting me, and I’m especially proud of Prince Alwaleed, who hired me. The prince is currently bearing all the cost of the advance training programs.”

Asked about the need for attending pilot proficiency programs now after obtaining the commercial pilot’s license last year, she said that the recurrent training makes a difference. Statistics show that pilots who take part in recurrent training programs have a much better safety record.

She said she’s proud of being the first Saudi woman to fly professionally. “The aviation industry is no longer a male bastion,” she said. “I recently met Aisha Al-Hamli, the first Emirati woman pilot, in Dubai.”

Hindi, who wears the hijab along with her pilot’s epaulets and trousers, was the only woman in her flight-training course in Jordan in 2004. But, she said, one of her trainers, Lena Al-Rabdi, was an Arab woman. “I also know the first female Palestinian captain, who was always supportive and friendly at the academy,” she said.

Referring to her advanced training in different countries, including Jordan and the UK, she said that living abroad has been a rich experience. “It has shaped my personality because I met such a wide range of people,” she said.

She still recalls one or two dicey moments during her training. “Once when I was flying alone and my family was watching from the tower, I maneuvered the plane at a very sharp angle so I could see them clearly,” she said. “My tutor later scolded me for attempting such a daredevil stunt.”

Hindi could be a role model for other women. She said she is convinced that many Saudi women have it in them to succeed. “Saudi women are very ambitious and capable when given the opportunity,” she said. “Women are capable of taking on any job monopolized by men.”

Hindi, an English literature student at a college in Makkah, brushes off remarks that a professional woman can’t find a husband. “I’ll probably consider marriage after a year or so, once I settle down and start my professional career,” she said. “I will marry a man who loves me and accepts the way I am.”

She candidly admits her humble family background, but says she has a very caring father and an equally caring mother. Her three sisters are housewives.

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