Saturday, February 25, 2012

Flying high . . . . .

BAHRAIN resident Vanessa Umba has made history after becoming the first female captain in the 62-year history of Gulf Air.

The 31-year-old Belgian took up the post late last year and has still not come down to earth.

"I always wanted to become a pilot and the minute I started my career I wanted to be a captain," she told the GDN.

"The only difference between being a first officer and captain is you are like the manager of the team.

"When everyone turns his head to you and asks 'what should we do?', it makes the job more interesting and it's very challenging."

Captain Umba began her Air Transport Pilot Training at Sabena Flight Academy in Belgium in 1998.

After graduating she worked on the ground for two years and in 2003 she began flying for Brussels Airlines as first officer on BA146.

In 2006, she joined Gulf Air as first officer on A330/340 and now flies A320s.

She flies mostly in the Gulf, but has also reached India, Milan, Rome and destinations in North Africa.

"I'm the only female captain at the moment, but there are eight other girls who are first officers, so it's growing," said Captain Umba, who is a member of the Arabian Section of the 99s International Women Pilots Organisation.

"But it's still male dominated and the Middle East is not really open to women having decision making jobs.

"In the beginning they would look and say 'she's a woman', but then they realise that she can do the same as a man, so it becomes normal."

Captain Umba first made history in Gulf Air in 2007 by being the first female pilot to become pregnant and as a result prompting the airline to create an employee policy specifically for female pilots.

"The administration for Gulf Air didn't have a policy for female pilots, so when I said in 2007, 'I'm pregnant', they had to write one," she explained.

Captain Umba now has two daughters Oceane, four, and Laura, two, and is taking a Master's in Air Transport Management with City University, London.

She says her achievements were made possible thanks to the support of her family and French husband Benoit Moreau, who is a Bahrain-based wood trader for Swiss company Interholco.

"The Middle East makes it much easier to do this because you have help with the cleaning and nannies who support the family because sometimes I'm not there at night or in the day," she said.

"But when I'm there, I'm there 100 per cent with them, so it works out good for the family.

"I hope I can inspire other women and especially those in the Middle East who are shy or not encouraged to have this type of career."

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