What It Really Takes To Be…Female Pilot

Etihad, Etihad Airways, Etihad Pilots, Etihad Cadet Programme, Etihad Female Pilots
ACCIOLY@photo
Rasha Saeed Al Musallami shares her experience as a female First Officer for Etihad Airways, and tells us how she navigates what is still one of the most male-dominated industries today

Try to remember the last time you were on a flight and heard a woman come on the Tannoy to talk weather conditions and flight routes. If you just realised that’s never happened in your entire travel history, you’re not the only one. While the amount of female pilots has risen significantly, the global number is still only around five per cent. Aviation roles for women have typically been reserved for non-flying positions like air hostesses and air-traffic controllers… until now, that is. But what do you need to be able to make it? We asked Emirati pilot Rasha Saeed Al Musallami to talk life above the clouds, following your dreams and charting the future…

In a nutshell, my job involves...

Confidence, leadership, decision making and discipline.

I got into this industry…

By chance. It’s a funny story, really. Most of my friends knew that my lifelong dream was to be a pilot. One of my former colleagues let me know that Etihad Airways was recruiting for a cadet programme and wanted to know if I’d be interested in applying. I gave him my CV and he applied on my behalf without telling me! So you can imagine my surprise when I received a call asking if I wanted to participate in the screening exam. I’m so thankful my friend took that leap of faith for me.

I love what I do because…

I’ve been given a golden ticket to see and experience the world firsthand. By being a pilot, I am not only able to constantly learn about the world through my travels and by experiencing different cultures, religions and food, but I also get to share my own insights about the UAE with everyone I meet abroad.

The best part of my day is…

When I see the world from above. It’s an amazing view and everything looks beautiful. I can see the lights of cities, the stars, the sunrise and sunset.

The hardest part of my day is…

During takeoff and landing. These are the most critical phases of any flight. I have to be extra vigilant with my checklist to ensure the safety of the crew and guests on board.  

The aspect of my job that always surprises people is…

That I am an Arabic woman from the Gulf flying planes. Oh, and that I look too young to be a pilot – but I take that as a compliment!

My first ever flight was to…

Minsk in Belarus.

My favourite place to fly to is…

The Maldives. It’s such a relaxing place to visit – especially when the majority of my flights are to large, bustling cities.

My most memorable flight is…

When I was operating an Etihad Airways flight from Jeddah to Dammam for Saudi Arabia Airlines. When I met the crew, all of whom were Saudi nationals, they were surprised to find out they were flying with a female pilot because it wasn’t something they had seen within their own airline. It was an honour for me to be the first female flying for Saudi and to be a motivation for women who are also thinking of getting into this career.

My top tip for dealing with jet lag is…

Keeping myself busy with sports, shopping or finishing various tasks until I reach an adequate time of the evening to go to sleep.

The three skills that help me succeed are…

Time management, decision making and leadership. As a pilot, I have to constantly be prepared for any last-minute changes or events.

My biggest role model is…

My mother. I always wonder how she was able to motivate my siblings and I to study hard and follow our dreams despite the fact that she herself never went to school. She’s a strong woman to follow and I always get my strength from her.

The one thing I wish I’d known when I started out is…

What the training was going to be like. Having obtained a degree in business, switching to aviation was really quite challenging as initially I had no experience in this field. If I could do it again, I would have prepared myself mentally to relieve the pressure.

The best advice I’ve ever been given is…

Don’t be scared to start from zero. Follow your dreams even if others disagree with you. In the end, only you know what’s best for yourself. 

Anyone wanting to do my job should…

Demonstrate excellent performance skills and be confident and committed to the job. They need to study hard and really develop their leadership skills and decision making, because the role is such a huge responsibility. You are responsible for transporting hundreds of passengers who completely trust you. 

In 10 years’ time…

I want to be an astronaut. I want to touch the moon and experience a completely different aspect of creation. Since I was a child, I have had a fascination with the sky and the universe; I’ve always wanted to know more about space. www.etihad.com


From the November 2019 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia

All images: ACCIOLY@photo

BY

Etihad, Etihad Airways, Etihad Pilots, Etihad Cadet Programme, Etihad Female Pilots
ACCIOLY@photo