Etihad adds eight Emirati aircraft engineers

Eight Emiratis are finishing an Etihad Airways training programme

Louloa Salem Abdulla, left, and Shehab Ahmed Alshehhi are trainee engineers at Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi.
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ABU DHABI // From the moment an aircraft lands, Louloa Salem Abdulla will be charged with a formidable responsibility.

"We have to do everything to make sure the plane is completely safe to fly," says Ms Abdulla, 24.

She is an aircraft engineer, one of eight Emiratis who will have that challenge starting in January, after four years of an Etihad Airways training programme - and she knows the pressure will be on.

"The maximum time you can have is overnight," says Ms Abdulla, from Abu Dhabi.

"Sometimes you only have 40 minutes to get the plane ready to take off after landing."

Taking part in the programme was a big decision for a couple of reasons: she was afraid of flying, and had taken a completely different subject at university.

Four years ago, Ms Abdulla was in her fourth year at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), six months from graduating with a degree in IT.

"My friends said, 'Why don't you try Etihad?' It was just starting to get famous then," she says.

As she browsed the airline's site, a window popped up.

"I found a programme for Emiratis so I applied in applied management."

Instead, Ms Abdulla was offered a place on a training programme for aircraft engineering, with two years in Australia followed by two years of ground training in the UAE.

At first she was terrified, not least by the thought of having to study maths, a subject she had avoided at school.

"I thought, oh no, I want to pull out," Ms Abdulla says. "They said, just come in for an introduction."

But she decided to go ahead and left HCT before completing her degree. Her mother was horrified.

"She said, are you serious? And I said yes, the programme would not wait for me," she says.

But now her mother's pride has grown as Ms Abdulla and the other Emirati trainees prepare to take control.

"This December I should complete two years and get my licence," she says. "Now my mum is happy. When I know she will be on-board, I tell the other people working on the plane to please take care, make sure it is all good.

"When you get your licence you sign off on aircraft, which means you certify that the plane will go and come back safely. If anything goes wrong, then they know it was you."

Ms Abdulla is working long hours - two days and two nights, 12 hours at a time, followed by four days off.

The job also requires her to squeeze into the aircraft's tightest nooks and crannies. "Some places are very confined. You cannot go in, you must feel what you are doing," she says. "The worst part is feeling the waste tank."

And as much as the burden of responsibility scares her, the thought of being a pioneering Emirati has pushed her forward.

"There are many [Emirati] cabin pilots but none as plane engineers," Ms Abdulla says.

"I will be one of the first Emirati engineers here, and only two of us are girls.

"It is mostly a male environment. They [the men] give us a hard time. They think we are soft.

"Some don't like to work with girls. They think our place is at home or in an office. You just have to show them that you are here to help."