Everything is possible if you are passionate about your dream and have perseverance, says Nouf Omar, emphatically. After earning her place in the annals of the UAE’s aviation history, she is urging young girls to take to the skies, in all the ways they can.
Ever since she was 15, she found herself fascinated by the flying career of her father’s cousin Captain Samir, who visited her family home every time he flew in to Dubai. When she asked him for career advice, he suggested she begin with a licence for a small plane. But Nouf was not one for the ordinary and diligently spent time studying all possible options. When her research was complete, she decided to “go big and do something really special,” and moved to Spain to train as a Boeing 777 pilot.
“It was not easy,” she says. “I was often homesick and we had a tight schedule, but I flew home to my family every time I could. I once travelled for 12 hours just to have iftar with my parents.” Her sights were set high, and her motivation remained undiluted. “I reminded myself every day why I was doing it, and I was determined to reach the goal I had defined for myself.”
Upon graduation, Nouf became the youngest female pilot in the UAE – among the first 10 female pilots employed by Emirates – and has since flown the Boeing 777 to more than 70 destinations around the world. She is only 26 years old.
When she was invited to speak at her alma mater, Al Mawakeb, Nouf realised from the flurry of questions that her story could serve as motivation and inspiration and took up public speaking. She became the first professional speaker in the country to get certified by Coach Kardan under Step Up International and speaks regularly at universities and schools. She also opened up her previously private social media channels for public interaction and actively communicates with young girls from as far as Africa and Asia. “It is important to tell them that a Muslim girl wearing a hijab can do whatever she chooses to do,” says the affable and articulate aviator.
It was not easy. I was often homesick and we had a tight schedule, but I flew home to my family every time I could. I once travelled for 12 hours just to have iftar with my parents.
She is fiercely committed to her flying career, observing hours of silent concentration to study plans and documents before heading to the airport. “Once I am airborne, it is not merely about getting the plane from Point A to Point B, but ensuring the safety of all the passengers and crew, and communicating ably with them,” she says.
When she is not flying, she has a full calendar playing volleyball at Al Wasl Club, playing padel at the national level, running a successful home-based confectionary business Noufy Truffy, and speaking at various forums. “I am a classic, old-fashioned person with a notebook and a planner, and once I receive my flight roster, my hours and days are marked up,” she explains how she fits in so much activity. “I plan ahead for everything.”
Nouf graciously downplays her awe-inspiring rise by citing the example of numerous women across the nation who are excelling in posts previously held only by men: “I thank the government for building such an inclusive and equitable society. Girls in the UAE can be whatever they want to be. Societal and public opinions really should not matter.”
With so many achievements to her credit, mentoring comes easy to her. “I am glad to serve as an example for girls. I tell them that they too can become whatever they wish to be, that no one can stop them,” she explains. She is also a mentor and coach to members of the Emirates Youth Leadership certification programme. “If you make a decision to do something, explore and expand your horizons and have the courage to make it come true.”
She is grateful for the support from her parents and siblings, and the role Captain Samir played in her own life as a mentor. “Some things do not change. I may be flying a Boeing 777, but I still look up to him.”