Meet pilot Aisha Al Mansoori, the UAE’s first female captain

Experienced pilot has risen through the ranks over 15 years with Etihad

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There is no limit for Emirati women, says Aisha Al Mansoori who has risen through the ranks from a cadet pilot at Etihad Airways to become captain. She is the first Emirati woman to achieve the feat.

At the airline’s crew briefing centre on Tuesday, Al Mansoori received four stripes on her uniform, confirming her new rank.

“I feel very happy and proud,” said the pilot aged 33, who has almost 6,000 flight hours under her wings since joining the UAE’s national airline more than 15 years ago.

“It is an achievement that I've been looking forward to and working hard for since I was a cadet pilot,” she told The National.

She took inspiration from her sister, Major Mariam Al Mansouri, the UAE’s first female fighter pilot.

Pilot Aisha Al Mansoori is the UAE's first female airline captain. Photo: Etihad

“Growing up, becoming a pilot was not really an option for Emirati women. But I was lucky that my sister started flying when I was still in high school. I went with her to the air show,” she tells The National.

“When I saw the aircraft and pilots, I just fell in love. I knew that is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

She joined Etihad’s cadet programme in 2007 where she trained with a Cessna 172, a four-seat, single-engine aircraft, and Diamond DA42, a four-seat, twin-engine aircraft.

After graduating, Al Mansoori joined Etihad Airways as a cadet pilot on Airbus A320. She progressed to flying Airbus A330s and became the first female UAE national to fly an A380 superjumbo, the world's largest passenger jet.

Aisha Al Mansoori was the first female UAE national to fly an A380 superjumbo, the world's largest passenger jet. Delores Johnson / The National

Now she is back to flying Airbus A320s as a captain. Over the years, she was promoted to the ranks of second officer, first officer and senior first officer, and has now taken on the rank of captain, marking a first for her country. It has been a long and rewarding journey, and she still remembers the first time she took to the skies.

“The first time I flew an aircraft, it felt very isolated in the cockpit because we have to keep the doors closed. I had come after training in a simulator which is also a closed box environment. So, I was very focused on my mission,” she says.

“That’s when a training captain told me I should step outside and say goodbye to the passengers. And only then it hit me that those are the people who trust me with their lives. I realised what a great responsibility and a great honour it is to be a pilot.”

The job is also full of challenges, says Al Mansoori.

“If you're not passionate, it's hard to survive because of [the] long and irregular working hours. Sometimes you have to work through the night. You need to maintain a healthy lifestyle and control your rest to be able to function. But at the same time, the joy and fulfilment of the job are definitely worth it.”

The sky seems to be the limit for this high-flying Emirati who would one day like to train and inspire future pilots. “I think we have a lot of promising talents in the company that will do great in the future,” she said.

In 2019, Etihad operated an A380 with an all-female crew on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris. Photo: JustPlanes

But for now, she’s excited that her milestone shatters another glass ceiling for Emirati women.

“We are both privileged and lucky to be born in the UAE as opportunities are open. All you need to do is seek it and take it.”

“Etihad is extremely proud of Captain Aisha’s achievement and the trailblazing role she is playing for women in aviation in the UAE. She will no doubt be the first of many, and Etihad looks forward to welcoming more female pilots to the rank of Captain in the future,” said Mohammad Al Bulooki, chief operating officer at Etihad Aviation Group.

Al Mansoori will commence regular flying duties as a captain at Etihad on August 28, a day that also marks Emirati Women’s Day.

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Updated: August 25, 2022, 12:32 PM