'The sky is for everyone': How Dubai's first royal female pilot paved the way for Emirati women

Sheikha Mozah bint Marwan Al Maktoum on breaking gender barriers to inspire the younger generation to follow their dreams

by

Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Fri 9 Feb 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 9 Feb 2024, 10:09 PM

There is a dream inside us that allows us to break the glass ceiling. A dream that paves the way for achievement. When she was a young girl, Sheikha Mozah bint Marwan Al Maktoum (grand-daughter of the late Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the brother of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) dreamt of becoming a pilot. An aspiration that took her to the prestigious Oxford Aviation Academy where she, at 17, became the youngest student to enrol for commercial pilot training.

Today, the sum total of that dream, hard work and perseverance is the distinction she has earned for herself, that of being the first royal female police pilot in Dubai. At 27, not only is she a pioneering figure in the UAE’s aviation industry, but has also carved a path for other girls to follow suit through Shehana, an association for women in aviation that works relentlessly towards encouraging young women to take up a career in flying.

“The sky has no gender,” she famously said at the launch of her book When She Took To The Sky at this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Her accomplishments reflect how far the younger generation of Emirati women have come. In an interview with Khaleej Times, she talks about her journey from a girl who dared to dream to a police pilot who leads by example. Edited excerpts from an interview:

You have been an inspiration to generations of Emirati women. What drew you towards aviation in the first place?

Thank you. From a young age, I have always harboured a thirst for adventure, leading me to take up and enjoy activities such as horse-riding, rock-climbing, coasteering to skydiving and wing-walking. When I was 12 years old, I had my first flying lesson in the UK on a Robinson 22 aircraft with no doors attached, and it led me to fall in love with flying. This passion subsequently led me to partake in skydiving at the age of 13. The euphoria of being airborne bestowed upon me a profound sense of joy and liberation, sensations that continue to accompany me every time I take to the skies.

You had been the youngest student at the Oxford Aviation Academy at the age of 17. What did it take for you to fit in? What had been some of the challenges you faced?

Embarking on pilot training at the age of 17 marked a significant shift in my life, especially given that my peers were considerably older. Connecting with their experiences proved challenging, and navigating the obstacles inherent in the educational journey was even more daunting. Furthermore, my instructors held me to a higher standard, emphasising the importance of earning my wings through perseverance and integrity, rather than coasting on privilege.

You have maintained that your mother has been your greatest champion. How did she support you in fulfilling your dream?

My mother has always been my biggest supporter. In fact, she had promised me that she would be there during my first passenger flight. And not only did she keep her promise, she brought her friends along and made the journey so special and memorable. Her presence ensured that I did not feel nervous at all during my flight from Dubai to Amman, and the journey went smoothly and remains one of my most memorable flights to this day. I was filled with pride and happiness.

What was the vision that informed the creation of Shehana?

I established Shehana with the objective of creating a support framework that can increase the presence of women in the aviation industry. Our four main goals are 1) to attract female participation in all fields within the aviation sector, 2) to suggest changes to policies and regulations, 3) to represent women in aviation in all relevant local, regional and international events and 4) to empower women in aviation through programmes.

Emirati women have well and truly come into their own. They are leaving a mark in every field — from tech to medicine to space. What, according to you, has been the game changer for the younger generation of women?

Emirati women today are literally reaching for the sky and achieving great things across different arenas — from science, to entrepreneurship, to art. And I think it is a testament to their determination and passionate commitment to excellence. Moreover, the UAE’s leadership and culture of family support also plays an important role. Having a strong support system is truly one of the best tools a woman can have that can motivate her to relentlessly pursue her dreams and passions.

You often talk about self-limiting beliefs that women have and how these end up sabotaging their true potential. What is different about the younger generation of Emirati women?

As someone who also falls under the category of younger Emirati women, I, like many of my similarly aged peers, believe that nothing is impossible. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of limiting beliefs that hinder growth. I think we younger Emirati women believe that with persistence and determination, no dream or achievement is ‘too big’. I am a firm believer in the motto, your altitude is only limited by your attitude, and I think it is something many young Emirati women like myself also believe in.

Following in your footsteps, many young Emirati women have taken up a career as aviators. What is your message to them?

I have always hoped that my journey can inspire young women to enter aviation and make an impact in the field. Through my work as a pilot, and Shehana, I want to always remind young women to tackle all challenges with confidence because there is a world of opportunities on the other side. The sky, and the opportunity to fly is for everyone, regardless of gender.

I also wrote When She Took to The Sky as a reminder of stories of the many amazing women all over the world who made a name for themselves in aviation and I hope that women find strength, solidarity and courage within its pages.

anamika@khaleejtimes.com


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