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Saudi Women Learn to Fly After Gaining Right to Drive

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By Jason Lemon, Newsweek

An aviation school in Saudi Arabia will open its doors to women, following the kingdom’s move to allow female drivers to legally hit the roads last month.

[post_ads]“We are no longer living in the era where women were allowed [to work] in limited arenas. All avenues are now opened for women,” applicant Dalal Yashar, who aims to work as a civil pilot, told Reuters. “If you have the appetite, you have the ability.”

Oxford Aviation Academy has begun accepting applications from Saudi women who wish to begin training starting in September. The branch of the school offering classes to women will open in the eastern city of Dammam.

The kingdom has launched a $300 million development project in the city, aimed at training a new generation of pilots as well as aircraft maintenance technicians, Reuters reported. Executive director Othman al-Moutairy told the news agency that students will receive three years of academic and practical training at the academy.

In June, Saudi Arabia became the last country in the world to allow women to legally driving, putting a final end to a decades old ban that had been upheld by conservative religious leaders. The decision was initially announced last September, but took several months for the kingdom to implement. Last year, Riyadh also granted women the right to attend public events, such as concerts and sporting competitions, alongside men.

Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom has pushed forward an agenda that aims to remove many of the traditional restrictions on women’s participation in society. However, rights groups have criticized the crown prince and Saudi authorities following the detention of numerous prominent women’s rights activists, suggesting reforms are merely a cover for a continued crackdown on political dissent. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights and other UN experts have raised concerns over the detention of activists' as well.

In January, Dr. Eqbal Darandari, a member of the Saudi Shura Council – the kingdom’s legislative body, called on national airlines to empower women by creating jobs.

“Airlines take one step forward and two steps back when it comes to pilot and flight attendant positions,” Darandari said, Saudi newspaper Arab News reported. “We’ve seen Saudi women piloting aircraft outside the Kingdom. Now it’s time for [Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority] to take the initiative. Saudi women deserve to find work in their own country.”
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Some Saudi women who dreamed of becoming pilots have traveled abroad to other Arab or foreign countries to pursue their training and careers. One high-profile female Saudi aviator works as a pilot for Saudi billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who has routinely sparred with President Donald Trump on Twitter and was detained along with numerous other prominent Saudis in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton until January.

Hanadi Al Hindi, who flies for Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding Company, graduated from an aviation school in Jordan in 2005 before landing a job with the Saudi company. Nevertheless, she was only allowed to fly outside of Saudi Arabia until 2014, when she was officially granted a pilot’s license, years before she could even legally obtain a driver’s license in the kingdom.

“Saudi women are capable of taking on any job previously held exclusively by men in Saudi Arabia,” Al Hindi told Saudi media at the time.

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