Women in Aviation-Middle East, the regional branch of the global non-profit Women in Aviation International (WAI), is on a mission at MEBAA 2018: “Our mission is to empower and motivate women and invite them to be a force in the aviation industry,” said Mervat Sultan, president, Women in Aviation Middle East (Booth 784). The effort has gained traction over the past decade. “In the last ten years the numbers of ladies [in the aviation field] has increased a lot,” she said. “We have women at ATC, on the ramp, pilots, and in engineering.”
However, “It’s not about gender, about female or male,” she said of her group’s efforts, noting their membership includes both. “It’s about expanding knowledge of aviation in the region.”
Sultan launched WAI’s Middle East branch in 2013, which today has more than 500 members from the Middle East, as well as throughout Africa.
As for the requirements to become part of the field, “The first is education,” she said. “You cannot be in aviation without education. You need to get a license,” whether that certification is for dispatch, performing maintenance, piloting an airplane, or any other technical job. “Second, you need to get your experience,” she said. “Third, expand your network. Aviation is a small community, and everyone knows everyone.”
Sultan herself at age 16 “was dreaming to be a pilot,” but upon her family’s advice initially followed a more traditional career path, earning an MBA and a degree in accounting. But she never gave up her interest in aviation, and in 2001 became one of the first women in the Middle East to earn a dispatch license. That same year she co-founded Ras Al Khaima-based RamJet, the UAE’s first aviation support company. She also earned a private pilot license along the way.
“Everything is possible,” Sultan said. “Don’t say, ‘I’m too old.’ Money also is not an obstacle. If you ask you may get help from chapters or from companies. Work hard and you get money.”
The Middle East branch is asking for such help on behalf of its member now, seeking more support from companies and institutions within the industry to “provide discounts on courses, or any licenses [students are] training for,” and other support.
For those already in the industry who want to help the next generation join them—whatever the prospect’s gender—Sultan stresses the importance of mentorship.
“If you mentor [only] one person, that’s enough,” she said. “It’s not about quantity, it’s quality. You have the ability to help others. Don’t keep the knowledge you gain over the years to yourself,” she continued. “You should pass it to others. If you want to be really happy from inside, [it will happen] when you see others happy because of you.”
Sultan practices what she preaches. “I now have a girl in Canada, she works in a coffee shop and she helps her family, and she lately finished her PPL. I’m very proud of her. I monitor her, send her emails, motivate her to keep looking to see her way to the sky.”
The Middle East chapter is now preparing for the General Assembly for Women in Aviation at Dubai’s Airport Show (April 29 – May 1, 2019) at Dubai International Convention Centre, held under the patronage of Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, which is expected to draw hundreds to share the message of empowerment and inclusion.