A 29-year-old Saudi Arabian woman has become the first female first officer to fly a mainstream commercial plane in the kingdom.
Yasmeen Al Maimani piloted Nesma Airlines flight ATR72 from Hail to Al Qasim on June 9, making her mark on the world of aviation by becoming the first female first officer to fly a scheduled commerical service in Saudi Arabia.
"I did not expect to be the first and it feels so good to represent my country with this title," she told The National.
Having trained in Jordan and the United States, Maimani swapped her pilot's licence for a Saudi Arabian one in 2013, but struggled to find work as most aviation positions in the country are traditionally held by men.
In February, Nesma Airlines offered Maimani a pilot trainee position. Four months later, it granted the aviator her commercial pilot’s permit.
Taking flight from Hail
Maimani’s inaugural flight as first officer was from Hail to Al Qasim return, then on to Tabuk before heading back to Hail. She shared a video from the cockpit of the flight on Instagram.
Being the only woman in a man's world was something Maimani worried about, but her concerns were unfounded, she said. "I thought it was going to be hard, being a female pilot based in Hail but it hasn't been. I feel so comfortable with everyone else here, and the way they treat me. It's like they are all my brothers, it's a good feeling," she said.
She now hopes to inspire young women who may be considering a career in the aviation. I'd like to see more female pilots, this is my goal to open this door for everyone so that every girl or woman who dreams of becoming a pilot can see me, and be inspired to go ahead with their plan," she said.
Maimani’s achievement follows that of Hanadi Al Hind who in 2014 became the first female pilot in Saudi Arabia to get a licence in the cou ntry. Hind went on to fly privately for Kingdom Holding Company, owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
Maimani started her career in various ground roles in aviation before going on to become the first woman to fly commercially. “I worked in flight operations, and in safety but I wasn’t happy there. Since I started flying with Nesma, every day is different," she said.
A passion for flying and a supportive family
“The whole concept from waking up for the flight, to putting on my uniform and then driving my car to the airport is a very good feeling. Doing my checklists, starting the engine and then flying, it’s a whole concept – and I love all of it,” said the first officer.
Maimani's family have been supportive of her career, with her father funding her training. Living the life of a pilot means she is often not at home for special occasions, but the first officer said her family “understand and take care of things for me when I’m not there”.
“Next I want to concentrate on getting more flying hours and focus on becoming a captain," she said. "This will be my next goal. I also want to get involved in some social work in Saudi Arabia. This has always been another of my dreams."
How Vision 2030 has changed things for her
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has made strides towards granting women equal rights. As well as lifting a ban on driving, women's rights have been included in the country's Vision 2030 — the kingdom's post-oil economic plan.
“I really appreciate my company and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for giving me this chance, and also for including women’s rights in Vision 2030,” she said.
“Since Vision 2030 came up, lots of doors have opened for women across the country, every company is supporting women and there are more jobs available in aviation and other industries.
"I have already noticed it in air traffic control, as I hear women now when I’m communicating with the tower. It's an amazing feeling.”
Last year, the first Saudi Arabian flight school opened its doors to women to train in aviation. That was after the General Authority of Civil Aviation issued five licences for Saudi female pilots permitting them to work as captains on Saudi Arabian Airlines.
These changes are also part of the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s objectives to attract more Saudi women in the industry.