First Female Syrian pilot.
Employee in Swedish Administration.
Wedad Shujaa overcame a great many challenges to become the first female pilot for SyrianAir, hired in 1998.
Over her 17 years at the company, Wedad flew the Boeing 727, Airbus 320, and ATR 72 to destinations in the Middle East, Far East, and Europe.
She flew ten years as First Officer and four years as Captain, logging 7000 hours.
“I was born and grew up in Damascus, Syria. It was a very nice city to live in. My father was a pilot, my mother a French teacher, and I have an older brother and younger sister. When I was young, we as a family sometimes flew with my dad and every time I took the chance to look at all those instruments and buttons in the cockpit. I admire my mom because she got her college degree in French literature and she never stopped thinking about her education so she proved to me that nothing is impossible in life. From a young age I looked up to women who were dedicated to defending the rights of women. As a teenager, I dreamed of becoming a strong woman representative of Syria and the Arab world but it wasn't my plan to become a pilot because there were no female pilots in Syria. In high school I enjoyed science but then decided to study English literature and translation for my college degree.
My brother went to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to study aviation and follow in our father's footsteps of becoming a pilot. During the summer before I started college, we went to visit him. I liked the atmosphere at the flight academy and one day I saw a young lady getting into an airplane, training to be a pilot just like my brother. I couldn't sleep that night and the next day I told my father, "I want to study to become a pilot exactly like you." I knew I had found my calling and I pleaded with my father to let me give it a try. I was confident it would work out well. My father decided I deserved a chance just like the chance he gave to my brother and after that I started my training. My father and my brother were a big help to me during my studies and also after I reached the career stage of flying.
I enjoyed my flight training in Tulsa. My instructor was happy and proud to see a woman perform well; he evaluated me for my abilities and did not hold me back because I was a woman. I loved flying the small airplanes like the Cessna and the Piper Seminole. When I did solo flights, I dreamed that all the Arabic women were watching me as I enjoyed my freedom in the sky.
I started flying for SyrianAir in 1998 as a co-pilot on the Boeing 727. It was not easy to be the first and only female pilot in Syria; it wasn't easy in the beginning to find acceptance in the "man's world" of an airline. I worked hard because I knew I had to set a good example as a woman. A lot of people encouraged me. It is not so difficult to do well and meet standards when you are doing something that you love, and I love flying.
In 2000 I went to Toulouse, France, for a transition course for the Airbus 320. I really like the Airbus 320! I flew that plane first as a co-pilot and then became a Captain on it in 2010. In 2011, the airline bought two ATR 72 turboprops so as a junior Captain I was assigned to that aircraft for a year and a half, then I went back to the Airbus. My husband also flew the A320 as a co-pilot until we left Syria in 2014.
I felt happiness and joy every time I got into the beautiful cockpit; I never got bored as an airline pilot. Each flight hour was a different experience with the duty of taking care of the passengers behind me. It brought me such satisfaction to get a flight safely from one place to another. It was interesting to watch the reactions of passengers seeing a young female pilot sitting there in the left seat: their eyes were full of so many questions and wonders but at the same time they seemed very happy and proud and this added joy in my career.
We left Syria in 2014 because of the war. Europe is a good place for raising our kids; I don't worry so much about their safety and future now that we have settled here. But it is not easy to start new lives as pilots, with complications in residency permits and validating our licenses that have expired. Every time I convince myself that I should do something other than flying, it makes me so sad because I know that flying is in my blood. I believe more and more that it's never too late and that I must never give up. Hopefully we will find a way to get back in the air as pilots for an airline in Europe. In the meantime, I got my Swedish citizenship, speaking well Swedish and currently work for the Swedish Administration, and pursuing the dream of getting my EASA License.”
Wedad Al Shujaa