An airline in Saudi Arabia has completed the country’s first flight with an all-female crew, officials said Saturday, framing it as a milestone for women’s empowerment in the conservative kingdom. The flight operated by flyadeal, budget subsidiary of flag carrier Saudia, was from the capital Riyadh to the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on Thursday, flyadeal spokesman Emad Iskandarani said.
The “majority” of the seven-member crew were Saudi women, including the first officer, but not the captain, who was a foreign woman, Iskandarani said. Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority, which confirmed flyadeal’s announcement Saturday, has touted expanding roles for women in the aviation sector in recent years.
For the first time in Saudi aviation history!🇸🇦
— طيران أديل (@flyadeal) May 20, 2022
In 2019, the authority announced the first flight with a female Saudi co-pilot. Saudi officials are trying to engineer a rapid expansion of the aviation sector that would turn the kingdom into a global travel hub. Goals include more than tripling annual traffic to 330 million passengers by the end of the decade, drawing $100 billion in investments in the sector by 2030, establishing a new national flag carrier, constructing a new “mega airport” in Riyadh, and moving up to five million tonnes of cargo each year.
Yet industry analysts question whether Saudi-based airlines will be able to compete against established regional heavyweights such as Emirates and Qatar Airways. The kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has overseen reforms including lifting a decades-long ban on women driving and the easing of so-called “guardianship” rules that give men arbitrary authority over female relatives.
But these have coincided with a crackdown on dissent that has ensnared some of the very women pushing for such changes.