UAE: Meet the youngest Emirati woman in the region to complete an air traffic control training programme

In a field where only 0.2 per cent of female applicants are accepted into an ATC program, Jouhayna Almheiri is making waves


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Tue 23 Aug 2022, 4:03 PM

Following a tough situation where she had to become the sole breadwinner for her family, Jouhayna Almheiri has risen to a position where she has come to represent Emirati women on a global platform. A true warrior in every way, hers is a story of sheer grit, determination and dedication.

Born to an Emirati father and Tanzanian mother, Almheiri studied in Sharjah. Bullied for being mixed race and not knowing Arabic, she had to change schools three times. Yet there is one thing that has remained a constant throughout her life: her work ethic.

Almheiri was assisting her mother at her veterinary practice before she could even speak clearly. “My responsibilities grew with me,” she said. “Soon I was answering the phone and scheduling appointments.”

Towards the end of high school, she had no idea what career path to follow, but she knew that she needed to contribute towards the family income. In a position where she had to become the sole breadwinner for her family, Almheiri looked desperately for a program that would help her quickly.

“I applied to multiple jobs and scholarship programs that we Emiratis are blessed with,” she said. “These pay you while they train you and you are guaranteed a job at the end. The pay for the scholarship programs increases in a short time frame.”

However, she had one major challenge. “Being mixed race, my parents spoke to each other in English, and it is all I'm fluent in, so I had to find a program that fit me,” she said.

“Air Traffic Control was one of the only programs that didn't need me to speak Arabic,” she said. “Also, it had the highest reward.

So my interest was purely based on my need to provide for my family. I decided to pursue a program and decided that I have no choice but to succeed.”

Thus began the first chapter of one of the biggest challenges she had undertaken in her life. The global acceptance rate for Air Traffic Control applicants to make it into an ATC program is just 1 per cent. For women, it narrows down to 0.2 per cent in the male-dominated field.

After 2.5 years of hard work, Almheiri made history. She became the youngest female and second Emirati female to successfully complete the ATC training program in an area control centre in the UAE.

Currently, she is living her dream life. “I am representing Emirati women at global events, and was the first woman to ever host the Global Air Traffic Management Conference at the Dubai Airshow,” she said.

She also participates in events at schools to spread awareness about career options as an Air Traffic Controller, and recently spoke at a TEDx stage for students. “I really enjoy working with and giving back to the youth,” she said.

However, she admits that the challenges of her job are many. “Air Traffic Control is known to be one of the most stressful jobs in the world,” she said. “We are responsible for hundreds and thousands of lives every time we plug in at work.

For example, an Airbus 380 is certified to carry 840 people on board, and that's just one aircraft during my shift. It is my job to keep these aircrafts on their correct flight path and on safe altitudes across the United Arab Emirates airspace.”

Almheiri is also an on-the-job training instructor who trains prospective Air Traffic Control officers. As an Emirati woman, she considers herself a role model in the industry. “I feel like I have a responsibility towards every woman who walks the same path that I did,” she said.

“I give them as much advice and support as possible because it is no easy task to make it through such a field. It is an absolute honour, and I don't take the responsibility lightly.”

She also has an inspirational message for other Emirati women. “Action delayed is greatness betrayed,” she said.

“So, believe in yourself and instead of saying one day I will do it, actively make it your day one to a better future.”


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