Saudi women were just granted the right to drive in September, and now an obstacle that held them back from becoming pilots is being removed.
A new aviation academy in Saudi Arabia will start training women pilots, according to a report by Saudi Gazette. The Oxford Aviation Academy is set to open its first branch in the Middle East and North Africa in Dammam, catering to male and female students.
“The announcement of opening the academy was done in Dubai Air Show on Sunday. The decision is approved by the General Authority for Civil Aviation. The academy will open in Dammam Airport on Jan. 1, 2018,” Col. Othman Al-Mitairi, Oxford Aviation Academy’s MENA Region’s Director General said, explaining women would be able to become commercial pilots just like their male peers.
While several brave and ambitious women have already become pilots in the kingdom, they previously had to seek their training abroad. When they returned to the kingdom after being certified, it was difficult for them to find jobs.
Now the social barriers clipping women's wings appear to be crumbling down.
"Men and women will be taught the same curriculum. We do have future plans to have female instructors and aviation trainers in the academy," Al-Mitairi said.
The news follows a September report by Gulf News that revealed Saudia (Saudi Arabian Airlines), the kingdom's national carrier, was considering sending qualified women on scholarships to study to become pilots abroad.
Sources told the Dubai paper that the move "would help shatter taboos that stood for decades," relating the decision to Saudi women gaining the right to drive in the kingdom.
No law existed preventing women from becoming pilots. However, social and cultural taboos, as well as meagre job prospects, held them back from embracing a career in aviation.
Despite the difficulties, several bold Saudi women chased their dreams of becoming pilots and succeeded.
Hanadi Al-Hindi received her pilot's license in 2006, after completing her training in Jordan. However, she wasn't able to find work or fly within in the kingdom until 2014, when she was hired by Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal's Kingdom Holding Company.
"That was really difficult, being a pilot who cannot fly in her own country," Hindi said, according to BBC.
Yasmeen Mohammad Al Maimani also became a licensed pilot in 2014.
My dream was to become a pilot and my family fully supported me," she said.
With the launch of the new flight academy combined with major reforms aimed at empowering women in the kingdom, many more Saudi women are sure to join these ambitious pioneers in the near future.