Skift Take

Etihad captain Aisha Al Mansoori didn't so much break the glass ceiling as much as soared through it.

Aisha Al Mansoori, the first female pilot at Etihad Airways, is in luck. The airline will re-introduce her favorite plane, the superjumbo Airbus A380, next summer as travel demand continues to rebound.

“It’s one of the most amazing aviation products out there,” Al Mansoori said of the A380 at the Skift Global Forum East in Dubai on Wednesday. She first flew the Airbus superjumbo in 2016. So it is Al Mansoori’s good luck that Etihad is planning to return four A380s to the skies in about six months.

Etihad parked its 10 A380s in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic decimated global air travel. At the time, it was not clear whether the aircraft that can seat more than 500 passengers on two levels would ever return. But, as international travel demand has surged back, airlines have moved to reactivate the aircraft, from Lufthansa to Qantas Airways and Singapore Airlines.

Etihad will reintroduce its A380s on flights between Abu Dhabi and London Heathrow in order to “satisfy the demand,” CEO Antonoaldo Neves said earlier in December. No word yet if Al Mansoori, who was upgraded to captain in August, will helm the superjumbos.

The promotion to captain was the latest step in Al Mansoori’s 15-year career with Etihad that began as its first female pilot cadet in 2007. And the firsts kept coming for her, from second officer to first officer, and from narrowbody to widebody aircraft pilot — Al Mansoori’s career literally took off. Her rise to captain is remarkable in more ways than one, including as a woman in the male-dominated aviation world, and a female pilot in a country and region not known for women’s rights.

“There’s a tremendous amount of support within the company, and within my family,” Al Mansoori said. It certainly did not hurt that her sister is the first female fighter pilot in the United Arab Emirates, and her brother is a helicopter pilot.

While state-owned Etihad does not disclose the demographics of its more than 8,000-people strong workforce, it has signed on to global aviation trade group IATA’s initiative that 25 percent of its leadership be female by 2025. The airline has a ways to go. As of June, Etihad’s executive team included just one woman: Nadia Bastaki, who is Etihad’s chief human resources, organizational development, and asset management officer. That translates to 13 percent female representation among the eight senior executives listed.

IATA data from March shows that women represent on average less than 13 percent of all senior executive positions, except in human resources, at airlines globally. In human resources, representation jumps to 40 percent. And, when it comes to the top spot, women make up only 6 percent of airline CEOs.

Asked what challenges she faced in becoming a pilot, Al Mansoori said they were the same for her as for any other pilot. “The challenges are equal. It’s the same challenge for female and male pilots. It’s the time away from the family, it’s the night flights, it’s the effort you put in, the work,” she said.

Her advice to other women who want to pursue a career in travel is to do what you like and want to excel in, regardless of what others — or society — may suggest.

Becoming a pilot, Al Mansoori said, was the “best decision I ever made.”


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Tags: Etihad Airways, sgfe2022, skift live

Photo credit: Aisha Al Mansoori is Etihad Airways' first female pilot and captain. Skift

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