Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 October 2020

Women of the UAE: Mariana Garcia Garza

Mariana Garcia Garza is one of only two Mexican women to fly an Airbus A380, for Emirates, and now she wants to be the first woman from her country to captain the plane.
Mariana Garcia, a Mexican pilot who is the first and only female pilot to fly the A380 with Emirates. Antonie Robertson / The National
Mariana Garcia, a Mexican pilot who is the first and only female pilot to fly the A380 with Emirates. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // Pilot Mariana Garcia Garza is one of two Mexican women to have flown an Airbus A380 and she is now aiming to make history by becoming the first woman from the country to captain the world’s largest passenger plane.

To achieve her goal, she is up against a friend and fellow Emirates pilot in the pursuit. It all depends on who gets the flying hours in first.

For Ms Garcia Garza, flying is in her blood. She was inspired to embark on an aviation career in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, both of them pilots named Gilberto.

As a six-year-old, her ambitions were dismissed as child-like fancy. Now, as an aviator, she is an inspiration to women across Mexico and at Emirates.

But her career flight path has not been an easy one. Economic recession in her homeland halted her career, while she also had to deal with sexist attitudes towards female pilots, something that failed to dissuade her from chasing her dream.

A brief stint working at a religious school in Mexico City was just a stop-gap until the airlines began recruiting again.

Since then, her career has taken her from the now-disbanded airline Mexicana to being a first officer with Emirates. “When I was a little girl I could go onto the flight deck with my dad and I wanted to know everything,” said the 37-year-old.

“I was determined from then to become a pilot. Even in Grade 6, my teachers just thought it was cute – I wanted to fly like my dad.”

Pilot qualifications depend on flying hours and take about four years to complete, on average.

Ms Garcia Garza completed her qualification in seven months when she was 19.

In flying every day, sometimes twice daily, at a training academy in Florida, she was one of just three women in her class of 17.

On graduation, she returned to Mexico City to find work with an airline where she was in a minority of 18 female pilots out of 800 operating in the country.

Unions would allocate pilots to airlines in need of new recruits and, as if by fate, she was placed with Mexicana, the airline where her father worked.

The 20-year-old would remain at Mexicana for 13 years until the 68-strong fleet folded in 2010.

“In Mexico, people expected me to be at home looking after the kids, so it was challenging being a pilot,” she said. “I would mostly get nice comments from other women who would say they were proud and how it was so nice to have a woman flying the plane. But there were also guys who would say, if there is a woman flying, I’m not getting on. You learn to live with it.”

When Mexicana collapsed and Ms Garcia Garza was out of work, her life took a new direction. Representatives from Emirates were visiting Mexico City on a recruitment drive and, encouraged by a friend, she found her calling and decided to move to the Middle East.

“It was a big step up from flying Boeing 727s,” she said.

“I started on the Airbus 330 and then moved up to the A340 a year later. Another year and I began to fly the A380.

“I had heard someone say it was like riding a bicycle but that’s not true. It is much bigger [than the Boeing 727 she flew at Mexicana].

“On my first flight on the A380, the cabin crew were super nice. I would get a lot of comments that it was their first time with a female pilot. They were all so proud and would come and speak to me.

“We are trying to get more girls to come and join us but, in aviation, it is a job that has been struggling.

“It is a lot of money to train with no guarantee of a job.

“A walk around the plane [the A380] takes about 15 minutes. Compared to my first flight on a Cessna, it is very different.

“The worst thing is waking up at 6am, it is difficult with time zones. You never get used to it. You need to love the job to take everything that comes at you.”

Like all Emirates pilots, Ms Garcia Garza has the highest standards of training and is prepared for any eventuality.

On the rare occasions when airline disasters occur, she is not put off from doing the job she loves.

“I don’t think about it,” she said.

“In a simulator you go through every single situation that could arise to train you and prepare you for everything.

“My goal now is to become a captain. I am first officer now and I want to be the first female Mexican captain of an A380 in the world.

“It will be a race with my friend, we joined together so we are close. One of us will be the first but we will be representing Mexico together.”

nwebster@thenational.aenwebster@thenational.ae

Updated: May 16, 2015 04:00 AM

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