Hanadi Al-Hindi hasn’t flown for five years, but her name will be remembered as the first Saudi woman to fly with a Saudi commercial pilot license.
Al-Hindi’s late father Zakaria Al-Hindi was her inspiration. He wanted to become a pilot but he couldn’t achieve his dream due to finances — so he made sure he fully supported his daughter.
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal then took Al-Hindi under his wing, backing her as the first Saudi female to pursue piloting. “What I faced when I flew back in 2012 with Al-Waleed, American women had undergone in the ‘70s. ATC (air traffic control) used to dismiss my calls for landing, just because I am a woman. But the prince told me to keep persevering and to keep on calling until I was heard, and then they did; they even started calling me Captain Hanadi, and whenever I was landing the prince’s private plane they’d secure my landing before any other plane.” That wasn’t before many trials and errors involving her mentioning them on their social media platforms to recognize her and acknowledge her existence.
Her journey started in 2002, and since then she has dedicated 16 years of her life to aviation.
When at high school Al-Hanadi had a talk with her father about what she wanted to do, her ambition was straightforward: “I don’t want to be a teacher or a doctor — I want something extraordinary, something only men can do in this country; I want to challenge men.”
When she embarked on life as a university student, she considered majoring in English, as she dreamed of speaking the language fluently like the Englishmen and women she watched on television — and so she did. Then during a visit to Jeddah, an airplane flew past and her father asked her what she thought about becoming a pilot.
The first thing Al-Hanadi considered was whether or not she would be studying abroad; she recalls the only thing her father asked of her before shipping her off to Jordan was for a photo of her in her uniform holding her license to showcase to his friends so he could proudly say “Meet my daughter the pilot.”
“My mother used to collapse every time I left for Jordan, and an ambulance would have to take her to the hospital — she took my departure the hardest. My family gave up so much for my success, and that is why I cannot ever abandon aviation. They did the impossible for me, and I won’t let them down. My duty (to them) was to succeed,” she said.
She believes that no parents could supersede what her parents did, going above and beyond, to ensure her success. She said that at the time it was not about being the first or second or last pilot — she just wanted to turn her father’s dream into reality.
“At the time, my dad faced more obstacles than I did, having a daughter bold enough to pursue aviation in the early 2000s. He worked at a courthouse for the Ministry of Justice — director of the Office of the President of the General Court in Makkah — so you can imagine how much backlash he went through.”
Al-Hanadi’s father sent her to Jordan during his first year of retirement in 2002, and many retaliated when the media began broadcasting her story by asking him to bring her back. Her father responded by saying “If you spent a penny on her education, bring her back, but since I’m the one who’s paying for her education then it is settled.
“He was told to not have me write his name on any outlets, to act as if he wasn’t my dad, but when I asked him if he wanted me to exclude his name from any documentation, he told me: I forbid it. I want everyone to know that you are my daughter.”
In 2003, her name was all over the media, and it resurfaced when she signed a contract with Al-Waleed bin Talal in 2004. She graduated in 2005 from the Middle East Academy for Commercial Aviation before falling into a slump until 2013, during which she kept herself busy by trying to obtain a commercial pilot license in Saudi. When she obtained it in 2015, it caused some ruckus, but not as much as it would have done today.
While attempting to acquire a Saudi license, Al-Hindi faced rejection following her return to Saudi Arabia after graduating.
Instead of succumbing to hopelessness, she decided to travel to the UK and continue studying where piloting is at its toughest. Hanadi’s journey was halted, however, when she was undergoing medical checks for flying and doctors discovered kidney stones that required immediate surgical removal if she wished to acquire the class 1 medical needed to fly. The surgery resulted in complications, keeping Hanadi out of action for two years. In 2009, her doctor told her to forget about her dreams when her kidney condition was found to be critical.
A year later, doctors were forced to remove it after several attempts to save it.
A day after the surgery, Al-Hindi received a call from a Saudi captain, congratulating her on obtaining a first-class medical pass. At first, she was dubious, but he reassured her that many captains who were born with a single kidney were certified and that she should recover and apply for the medical certificate. She applied for both the American and Saudi’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) class 1 medical at the same time, as they both required similar documents. The American certificate wasn’t issued immediately and required further medical reports, however, GACA issued the first class 1 medical certificate to her in 2011.
She went to America and completed her stay at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and then returned to the Kingdom in 2013, officially applying for a commercial license. She was given a week to prepare for her three written exams, and when she went to perform her tests she passed with flying colors. Her flight test was performed in Jordan. She was observed by two proctors, flying for two hours rather than the one her male counterparts undertook, but she did not budge. After the flight, the examiner asked her how she thought she did. “I told him, I don’t think I’ve ever performed as well as I did today — I think you need to hand me my license right now. And he did.” After that, she was able to fly Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.
Recounting her lessons to her father — which was a request he made before she left to Jordan — may have encouraged the love of aviation teaching in Al-Hindi at a younger age; being a focused, studious individual must have also helped her as a year ago she began teaching written aviation exam material.
“Saving money, saving time,” is her motto when it comes to teaching the written aspects needed before any aviation exam, a job she is currently passionately performing at the Pilot Training Center (PTC) on Prince Sultan Road in Jeddah.
“This makes it easier for a lot of to-be-pilots. They can study the written material here, which helps them immensely so that when they take the test in the U.S., they do not have to worry about it at all. Besides that, it is cheaper for them, and they’d be doing it in their environment, studying and preparing then finishing classes in time to have dinner with their families.”
Al-Hindi hasn’t been able to fly locally yet, so instead of staying idle she chose to teach people how to fly, or at least to supplement them with the basics.
“The book I teach here is the same one they cover in every airline and school, but I don’t just give it to my students to memorize. I summarize the gist and point out to them what they will use when they practice piloting,” she said.
“When I teach my students, the stakes I place on them are high — I tell them ‘your grade is my grade’ and that their effort reflects my work and what I’ve poured into them. When asked about who taught them, it will be my name they utter, and I want them to always remember me well.”
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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