Saudi aviation academy to train first women pilots

The kingdom will look to train women in one of the most prestigious training acadmies in Saudi

Dalia Yashar, one of the first Saudi students who registered to become a commercial pilot, stands in front of the registration centre, CAE Oxford ATC, where Saudi women can pursue their carrier as a commercial pilots, at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2018. Picture taken July 15, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
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A flight school in Saudi Arabia is opening its doors for women, following the end of a decades-long driving ban in the Muslim country where many social restrictions are easing.

Oxford Aviation Academy, a leading trainer and crew recruiter, has already received applications from hundreds of women hoping to start lessons in September at a new branch in the eastern city of Dammam.

"People used to travel abroad (to study aviation), which was difficult for women more than men," said applicant Dalal Yashar, who aspires to work as a civil pilot.

"We are no longer living in the era were women were allowed (to work) in limited arenas. All avenues are now opened for women. If you have the appetite, you have the ability," she said.

The academy is part of a $300 million project that includes a school for aircraft maintenance and an international centre for flight simulators at the airport.

Students receive three years of academic and practical training, said executive director Othman Al Moutairy.

Read more: UAE's female fighter pilot leads air strikes against ISIS

A decades-long ban on women driving was lifted last month, as part of sweeping reforms pushed by powerful young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aimed at transforming the economy and opening up its the conservative society.

The lifting of the prohibition was welcomed by Western allies as proof of a new progressive trend in Saudi Arabia.

The graduates will not be among the first Saudi female pilots. The first Saudi women to fly is Hanadi Al Hindi, who flies luxury jets for Al Waleed bin Talal.