Sky is no longer the limit for young Emirati women

About 30 per cent of the 94 first-year students in Abu Dhabi University's aviation bachelor of science degree are women, most of them Emirati.

From left, Maram Khalid, Zinab Abdullah, Air Force pilot Fatima Al Mansoori, Rehab Mussa, Safwa Akber and Fatima Al Hashemi are in the third and fourth years of the aviation programme at Abu Dhabi University. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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ABU DHABI // The number of Emirati women enrolling in a university course to prepare them for a career in aviation is steadily on the rise.
About 30 per cent of the 94 first-year students in Abu Dhabi University's aviation bachelor of science degree are women, most of them Emirati. Of the 350 students in all four years of the course, about 20 per cent are women.
In aviation courses elsewhere in the world, women make up between 8 to 12 per cent.
Shaimaa Aly started at the university in an architecture course before switching to aviation.
Ms Aly believes there are two reasons for the high percentage of women on the course.
"The first is that everyone is following their dreams," she said.
"And the second is, personally, I want to break the stereotype that females can't fly and they can't do a manly job. We want to prove that wrong, if I can say so."
The course, which gives graduates a degree but not a pilot's licence, was introduced to serve the needs of Etihad Airways.
Etihad wanted to give its cadet pilots an education to complement their technical training and allow Emirati trainees to stay in the country while studying.
Eventually, the programme was opened up to other nationalities and for those wanting to fly aircraft or pursue careers in ground operations.
Courses cover a range of subjects including physiology, navigation, air-traffic management and flight lessons.
The programme has been given special permission to be the only major at the university with coeducational classes, although there is separation for some activities such as presentations.
Tayyaba Habib said the university had made a career in aviation possible for her.
"These are new ways that weren't always available," Ms Habib said. "Now my family realises 'she has the potential, she has the means, we don't have to send her abroad'.
"With the initiative of Abu Dhabi University, we now have the opportunity of getting into the field more easily. I think that we are finally thinking outside the box."
Laurie Earl, the course director, said the female students were helping to dispel stereotypes.
"The girls have got the highest marks," Ms Earl said. "They're doing excellently, perhaps because they have to prove themselves. The guys come into this with little effort. The girls have to fight to get here."
Owais Aamir, an academic adviser for the course who achieved the highest marks in the programme's first graduating class, said female pilots were just as capable as men, if not more so.
"Men can be a little overconfident sometimes. Women have attention to detail," Mr Aamir said.
The young women are optimistic about the future as they break through the glass ceiling and prepare to gain real-world experience through internships as part of the programme.
"We have a long way to go. This is just the beginning," said Ms Aly.