Meet the UAE’s first female aircraft engineer who created a mangrove forest

On the eve of International Women's Day, we chat to Dr Eng Suaad Al Shamsi who, after breaking conventions in aviation, is once again sowing the seeds of change

UAE’s first female aircraft engineer creates a mangrove forest

UAE’s first female aircraft engineer creates a mangrove forest
Powered by automated translation

The first female Emirati aircraft engineer, who has spread her wings within the traditionally male-dominated aviation sector, is also making an impact on the ground by planting mangroves in the UAE.

When the country announced its ambition to plant 100 million mangroves by 2030, Eng Suaad Al Shamsi, a senior programme manager with Etihad Airways, came up with an initiative to offset the airline’s carbon footprint and address climate change.

“It came to my mind: 'Why don’t we plant a mangrove and people can adopt it?'” says Al Shamsi, who is a mother of two young boys.

Last February, the Etihad Mangrove Forest launched on Jubail Island in Abu Dhabi, with Al Shamsi planting the first tree. Since then, thousands of mangroves have been planted.

“We have an application through which people can adopt a mangrove, visit the mangrove, 'chat' with it and see how it's growing,” she says.

One mangrove tree absorbs 12.3kg of carbon dioxide in a year and more than 300kg over its lifetime.

On the day The National visited the mangrove park, workers offloaded hundreds of seedlings from a truck, put them into baskets and carried them through the swamp. They then waited until the afternoon for the water level to recede before planting the saline-tolerant shrubs. Mangroves are planted on site all year except during extreme summer, between the end of May and July.

“After planting each tree, the planter will capture it with their phone because we want to be totally honest with our customer that this is the tree that belongs to you,” says Al Shamsi.

Travellers can adopt a tree using their Etihad Guest Miles or by booking an economy space seat with the airline. The donation finances the growth of the seedlings and their maintenance needs.

Details of every tree are captured using an app called TreeCorder, including photos, GPS location, date of planting and the farmer who planted it. Adopters will then receive a link to name their tree and watch it grow. They can track its location, age and height, and even “chat” with a chatbot connected to the tree, for up to 10 years.

Al Shamsi has named two of the mangroves after her sons Yousuf and Sultan. “I often bring my kids to see their mangroves, to educate them on how to save the environment and how to be part of the sustainability journey, not only for the country but also for the Earth," she adds.

“When my children and I travel, they always ask me: ‘Mommy, when will the Etihad mangrove forest become international?’ And I tell them always: ‘It's coming soon, wait for it.’”

Inspiring other women

Al Shamsi qualified as an aircraft engineer in the UK before returning to Dubai. She defied all odds when she started her career 18 years ago as the first female aircraft engineer in the UAE. She then progressed to other areas of aircraft operation, including being a technical service engineer. She now works as a technical adviser for the Midfield Terminal Project with Etihad in Abu Dhabi.

Besides managing a hectic work schedule and raising her sons, she also advises and inspires other women to take up roles in male-dominated fields, such as aviation. “I'm proud to say I am the first female Emirati aircraft engineer, but it has made me more responsible to give back to society and educate the new generation," she adds.

“When I retire, I want to see as a percentage, not only three, four or even 10, but 50 per cent of women working in aviation, including the operation and technical areas,” she says. “If you can dream it, you can do it. So be the leader you were born to be.”

Updated: March 12, 2023, 11:52 AM