You may have heard about this remarkable first: An all-female crew from Brunei, where Islam is the official state religion, recently piloted a Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Brunei to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, landing the cutting-edge airliner in a country with severe restrictions on women’s rights. The story is a great one, but the story behind the story is even more exceptional.
Royal Brunei Airlines entered the history books with its first all-female flight crew landing the 787 Dreamliner in Saudi Arabia on February 23, 2016. The Boeing is a pioneer, too, as it’s the manufacturer’s most fuel-efficient airliner, with its swept wingtips and use of composite materials in the airframe’s construction.
The three pilots—Captain Sharifah Czarena, Senior First Officer Dk Nadiah and Senior First Officer Sariana—operated flight BI081 from Brunei to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a country, ironically, where women aren’t permitted to drive cars. The historic flight occurred on the same day as Brunei’s 32nd National Day.
Currently, Royal Brunei Airlines has 130 pilots on its payroll, and six of them are women. Another female pilot is completing the airline’s Cadet Pilot program. RBA is also running a campaign targeted toward female job candidates, with its Engineering Apprentice program, open to both men and women. Located on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, Brunei has an estimated population of 429,000; roughly half are women.
It comes as no great shock that commercial flight crews are hugely skewed in the United States, as well. According to the FAA’s Aeronautical Center (December 2013), of the total number of pilots (599,086), 6.61% are women, and women make up 6.39% of the total number of commercial pilots (108,206).
For some historical perspective, the world’s first female airline pilot was Marga von Etzdorf, hired by Lufthansa in 1927.
In 1934, Helen Richey became the first woman pilot for a U.S. commercial airline when she was hired by Central Airlines, which would become part of United Airlines.
Emily H. Warner is considered to be the first woman hired as a pilot for a U.S. commercial airline, when she was named second officer on a Boeing 737 by Frontier Airlines in 1973, the same year American Airlines became the first major airline to hire a female pilot, Bonnie Tiburzi.
And, in 1979, the first all-female flight crew operated a commercial flight for a scheduled U.S. air carrier, Hawaiian Airlines, flying from Honolulu to Molokai in an SD3-30, with Capt. Sharyn Emminger and First Officer Karen Squyres in the cockpit. According to the airline, it was “a Kona wind day on Molokai that morning making for a nasty approach but the crew landed safely and thus landed their place in the history books.”
As the major U.S. airlines prepare to replace possibly 18,000 retiring pilots over the next seven years, groups like Women In Aviation, International (wai.org)—with a membership comprising over 13,000 men and women—work to encourage people to become interested in aviation and pursue careers in the industry.
The crew for Royal Brunei Airlines Flight BI081 is an inspiration!