Making History at 10,000 feet
The first ever all-female flight deck crew for Royal Brunei Airlines has now operated a plane out of Brunei. Royal Brunei assigned three female pilots to a flight on the 24th of February this year as it celebrated Brunei’s National Day, which marks the state’s full independence from the UK in 1984.
In the history of aviation, they are not the first all female crew but they’re gaining attention worldwide thanks to the destination in which they flew to on their inaugural flight together for Royal Brunei Airlines.
While it was a landmark moment for the carrier, the flight was also significant and has gained international coverage because the pilots landed at an airport in Saudi Arabia – a country where women are banned from even driving a car. Captain Sharifah Czarena and senior first officers Sariana Nordin and Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem were behind the controls of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner on flight BI081 from Brunei to Jeddah.
(From L-R Captain Sharifah Czarena, Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem and Sariana Nordin)
Given the destination was Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights are severely limited, the story about Royal Brunei’s all-female crew has gone viral on the internet. But more importantly, the airline’s landmark voyage has highlighted and reinforced the restrictions women still face in Saudi Arabia. Although there is technically no law that prohibits women from driving, it is a rule imposed by many conservative Muslim clerics and is practiced throughout the country. In recent years, women have used the power of social media to protest against being forbidden from getting behind the wheel. The Women to Drive campaign has nearly 36,000 likes on Facebook.
In December 2014, Loujain al-Hathloul was detained after she attempted to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. Maysa al-Amoudi, a friend who turned up to support her, was also detained. Both were released after more than 70 days in custody.
(Protest against Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia)
Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch said at the time: “After years of false promises to end its absurd restrictions on women, Saudi authorities are still arresting them for getting behind the wheel. The Saudi government’s degrading restrictions on women are what bring shame to the country, not the brave activists standing up for their rights.”
Historically and statistically, aviation is male-dominated, however, the upward trend of women in the industry is very encouraging and stories such as this one will only inspire more female pilots and deck crews in the future.
“This achievement of ours will hopefully make girls and women realise that pursuing a career in aviation is possible.’ – Captain Czarena”
All-female crews have become a trend in recent months. Last week a number of airlines, including Air Canada and Air India, operated long-haul flights staffed by female pilots to coincide with Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.
Royal Brunei Airlines is committed to getting more women into the industry as it currently offers an Engineering Apprentice program to both males and females. The national flag carrier of Brunei, a sovereign state on the north coast of Borneo, said it has taken steps to encourage more women to pursue careers that are traditionally dominated by men.
Here’s to a continued positive change in the skies and now for a positive change on the ground for Women’s rights in places such as Saudi Arabia.