Women and Middle eastern aviation:
What do you envision when you think of the Middle East? Wide swaths of shifting sand dunes and cornflower blue, cloudless skies? Men in flowing white robes and
keffiyeh held on with an agal (black doubled rope) riding camels?
Women in extremely modest dress?
Think again. This time, think airline pilot. Yes, women are making inroads in middle eastern commercial aviation, and they are
not just working the back of the airplane these days (once upon a
time even that area was off-limits to them).
It hasn’t been an easy road for middle eastern women who wanted to fly. Even in what might be considered one of the most westernized nations in the Middle East, Israel, women were only let
into the ranks of pilots in the Israeli Air Force (once the only route
to the airlines) some 20 years ago.
We spoke with 44-year-old Merav Schwartz, first officer, El Al
Airlines, Israel, who was the first woman to work as a pilot at El Al.
How did you get interested in aviation?
I don’t know, really! I was probably born with it. It was during wartime and we had the Mirage flying for our air force, and a
friend of my father who didn’t speak Hebrew well, he called me
Mirage. Maybe that stuck?
What did you study in school?
There was nothing you could do that would help you, deliberately, in those days. I studied math and physics, but it was because I liked those subjects.
Israel has a pretty regimented public school system. Students
go through lots of testing to get to university. I studied physics at
Tel Aviv University.
How is it that you learned to fly?
When I was 18 I learned to fly. At that time I could not join
the air force to learn to fly. They were not taking women then. I
wrote letters to the head General of the air force. No, no, no,
I was told.
More Western Influences Will Help
as of last spring, Jeppesen, a unit of boeing Flight Services, has teamed with Dubai-based
emirates aviation College, the academic wing of emirates, to offer the first Joint aviation authorities (Jaa)-licensed pilot training program in the uae. The first class of ab initio cadets
began the 16-month program with ground school and theory training in March 2012, as the first step toward earning an
airline transport pilot license (a TPL) or a commercial pilot license with single-engine and multi-engine instrument ratings.
according to a boeing study, the commercial aviation industry is facing a tremendous demand for new personnel over the
next 20 years. The boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook forecasts a
need for more than a million commercial airline pilots and maintenance technicians. In the Middle east alone, the 20 year projection calls for 36,600 pilots and 53,000 technicians.
Did you do all of your flight training
I came to the States for a year to fly. It
was so reasonable, and you could fly everywhere. Even multiengine aircraft. I
flew on the west coast and the east coast.
Around 1999-2000 I applied for the
third or fourth time to El Al and finally
they called me for the interview, exams,
and in September 2000 I was hired as the
first female to fly for El Al, but really, I
owe my job to Olit Katzil. Let me explain.
El Al used to say that it didn’t take pilots who didn’t fly in the Israeli air force.
When she sued, they acquiesced. They
accepted her, but she took a job with