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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Portait of a Nation: Young Emirati pilot says flying is window to the world

Bakhita Al Muhairi hopes more young Emirati women will follow in her footsteps

One of Emirate Airline's youngest pilots, Bakhita Al Muhairi, 23, an Emirati, is pictured in the cockpit alongside a colleague.
One of Emirate Airline's youngest pilots, Bakhita Al Muhairi, 23, an Emirati, is pictured in the cockpit alongside a colleague.

DUBAI // At only 23 years old, Bakhita Al Muhairi could well be one of the youngest Emirati female commercial pilots in the UAE.

The young woman who works for Emirates Airline is part of the only five per cent which make up the world’s female pilots.

“I wanted to be something different and not have a desk job, something that is more field-oriented and allowed me to work with my hands,” Ms Al Muhairi said. “I thought about being a nuclear engineer, a dentist, a veterinary, a journalist and a fighter pilot. At 16, you really don’t know what you want to be in life unless you [get it] from your parents but my father passed away when I was 10 and my mother wasn’t working so I didn’t have a physical example in front of me.”

The Dubai-born pilot applied to seven universities, each with a different major. Fortunately, all accepted her. “It was then my turn to decide who I wanted to be,” she said. “So I did the pros and cons. I have an attraction to flying and discovered at the time there was only one Emirati female pilot and now we’re four. So I chose flying.”

While attending the Emirates’ National Cadet Pilot programme for four years in Spain and Dubai, she acquired her licence before training in a Boeing 777. “The advantage of being a pilot is I have this passion about culture, other religions, nationalities and ideas and the more you travel, the more your brain expands and your way of thinking grows,” she said. “I knew I’d see a lot in life with a commercial airline.”

She said becoming a pilot was a good career path as well as a good choice to teach other Emiratis about the outside world. “Our leaders brought everything to the UAE so that we don’t have to go abroad to study or work,” Ms Al Muhairi said. “We have everything here so people end up studying in the UAE. I studied abroad for two years in Spain so that added a nice impact and when I’m travelling, I carry my religion and my country and I bring back good stories to my country.”

Her closest childhood friends are extremely diverse, each working as a pharmacist, a lawyer, a nuclear engineer and a businesswoman. “We meet up twice a month and our conversations are so interesting,” she said. “We complete each other.”

While flying, she is currently studying a master’s degree in aviation science part time at Hamdan University. “I want to finish my degree and achieve more,” she added. “I’m blessed to have a competitive surrounding and my goal is to show young Emirati women that they can work in this field too. It’s not just aviation – just accomplish what you want to accomplish.”

Her "unconventional" job in this part of the world gets many surprised looks. “I’m young, Muslim and Emirati and I accomplished,” she said. “As a pilot, I can fly a maximum of 90 hours a month and it’s a safe environment to be in. People are really nice and helpful and what’s nice about it is you’ll meet people from all over the world who are different to what you see on TV.”

She said it removed all the stereotypes that were built over the years on certain nationalities. “People are kind,” she said. “They used to show people in the United States hating Muslims but Americans are so nice and, contrary to what people think, so many female Muslims walk freely in the streets there and in Europe. I love travelling, I have an urge but there’s also really no place like home.”

cmalek@thenational.ae