Breaking down gender barriers

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According to the latest statistics, Gulf Co-operation Council countries and India will need about 23,000 pilots in the next 10 years. Training organisations are growing in the region to meet the expected demand.

How did you feel when you found out you were on the course?

A: I was happy and proud. I did not believe I actually got in. I had to go through several exams to test my abilities, which were long and hard.

S: I am happy and stunned to be living my dream. It is so wonderful. I prepared for my exams thoroughly and was sure I did well.

What made you want to become a pilot?

A: I had a zero gravity experience and loved the feeling of just being in the sky. And my sister was the first female fighter pilot in the UAE airforce. I visited her and saw her flying.

S: When I was younger I read an article about a local woman who flies. I thought: "I could be like that." My father suggested I apply when he saw an advert for Etihad. My grandmother is quite old fashioned and thought that people would think badly that I was going to be a pilot. When she saw my picture in the papers she realised it was a big success.

Where do you see your career going?

A: I'd like to be a first officer and fly a Boeing - the bigger the better.

S: In five years time I'd like to be a captain and an instructor. I would love to fly to England.

How is it working with the men - how supportive are they?

A: We are so lucky. We have the best colleagues, who are very helpful and give us lots of advice. They couldn't be more supportive. They are excited to see us on the course with them.

S: We are all very thankful to Etihad. We are close to each other and supportive, if any of us were sick for a week, the others would call every day to check.

How do your families feel?

A: Mine could not be prouder. My mum is always calling me and my dad collects articles about us in the newspapers. I have six sisters and three brothers. One of my brothers is a helicopter pilot for the police. There is no history of aviation from our parents though. My father is a researcher and my mother is a housewife.

S: My mum and dad encouraged me a lot. They want me to be happy and live my dream. They are so proud of me. There is no one in my background who flies. I have one brother and one sister and my brother keeps asking how he can join an airline.

What are the best and worst aspects of your job?

A: Flying is the best of course. We will start flying after five months. There is no worst part. I am excited more than I could have ever imagined and can't wait to get into the aircraft.

S: There is no flying yet, but it is so exciting and I am loving ground school and am incredibly happy.

They have yet to take the controls, but Aisha and Salma are raring to go


Female facts

Although Aisha and Salma are the first female cadets in Etihad, the concept of female pilots is not as rare as people imagine. Dubai's carrier, Emirates, has six female first officers and a left-hand seat appointment is imminent.

Pilot and cabin crew training in the Gulf is becoming extremely sophisticated. DAE has recently launched its own training college and will have students flying jets early on in their training. The company is aiming at training 400 pilots a year and is expecting both male and female recruits.

Boeing has forecast that the Middle East will need to acquire 1,160 aircraft by 2026 to sustain passenger growth.

Capt Hanadi Zakariya Hindi flies private jets belonging to Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal, (the owner of the world's first personal VIP A380). She is the first accredited female Saudi pilot, although she still needs to be driven by a male chauffeur to the airport.

There are believed to be more than 4,000 women airline pilots in the world, mostly in the USA. China claims to have the most women military pilots.