UAE: Meet the first Arab female pilot, youngest woman in the world to fly an aircraft
She would have loved to be an integral part of the aviation sector, but fate had other ideas. She found a new passion in education.
Fatinah Al Beetar took to the sky at the tender age of 14 — making her the youngest woman in the world to do so.
Al Beetar was born in Syria in 1959 and came to the UAE, then called the Trucial States, as a three-month-old baby. She enrolled in the first aviation school that opened on May 16, 1971, in the then Arab tribal confederations under colonial British rule.
The courageous teen came from a well-heeled Syrian family, as her father was one of the pioneers in the publishing industry long before the UAE was founded as a model Arab state.
She started taking her flying lessons under the supervision of her mentor, Captain Adel Al Deeb, who founded the aviation school and served as its manager until 1976.
Al Beetar’s parents were supportive of her flying ambitions and her cherished dream was realised when she received her licence. She completed 700 flying hours and was the only girl student in her class in 1973.
She became the first Arab female pilot — an astounding feat that caught the global imagination, sending the Arab and the Western press in a beeline to interview her.
“I was interviewed by journalists from Germany, England and Arab nations because of my achievement,” she recalled.
She had flown to Abu Dhabi, in and around Sharjah and the northern emirate of Fujairah during her nascent career as a pilot. She had also piloted a flight to Pakistan and Bahrain.
Discovering a new passion
She would have loved to be an integral part of the aviation sector, but fate had other ideas. One day, she had to leave for England, where her husband was moving.
Then, Al Beetar — a picture of Arab pride and dogged determination — found a new passion in education.
Initially, she obtained a bachelor’s degree from Damascus University, and later her first post-graduate degree in Islamic studies. She went on to obtain two successive post-graduate degrees in diverse streams, such as business administration and leadership in education. Her third post-graduate degree was from the Abu Dhabi University.
The degrees have stood her in good stead in her glorious professional career as a dedicated educationist for the past 32 years.
Now, she is the principal of Al Bayan School in Sharjah.
In retrospect, she is content with her professional and personal achievement.
Her four children — two daughters and two sons — take immense pride in their mother’s feat, as she chose a path less travelled and managed to excel in it.
However, her attempts to convince the children to take to flying came a cropper, as they chose conventional academic pursuits such as engineering and medicine.
Emirati Civil Aviation Day
Al Beetar’s flying achievements came to the fore all over again during the Sharjah Museum Authority’s (SMA) annual celebration of the Emirati Civil Aviation Day on October 5 — the day when the first commercial flight landed in the emirate, carrying four passengers on board.
The SMA displayed never-before-seen documents and photographs from the region’s first aviation school and some meteorological instruments used at Sharjah International Airport.
Al Mahatta Museum is hosting the exhibition 'Sharjah, the First UAE Flying School', which will be held until September 2, 2022.
Sheikh Khalid Issam Al Qassimi, chairman of the Department of Civil Aviation in Sharjah, and Aisha Deemas, director of Executive Affairs at SMA, were present, when the meteorological instruments were handed over.
The rare exhibits include photographs, correspondence, and documents that shine light on the history of Al Mahatta airport, the aviation school, and the amazing feat of Al Beetar.
The rare Hanno HP42 aircraft model is also being displayed. Only eight of them were manufactured in 1929-30, and data shows that four each were designed for European and the Middle Eastern and African sectors.
The exhibition celebrates how the maiden air link had started commercial activities and cultural exchange with the rest of the world.
The event also chronicles how late Captain Al Deeb had started the flying school on May 16, 1971, after obtaining a flying licence from England in the previous year.
His daughter, Nora Al Deeb, had loaned to the SMA his daily flight records, pilot licence and uniform.
Captain Al Deeb held a degree in civil engineering and came to the then Trucial States in 1957 from his native Lebanon. He had helped build several projects in his adopted homeland, including schools and an eponymous hospital. He passed away in 2015 in the northern emirate of Ajman.
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