Muslim female pilot soaring on the wings of ambition
Hassana Al-Saba fuelled by self-belief and love for aeroplanes
Hassanah Al-Saba said she always knew she would have achieved the rare feat of being a locally trained female Muslim pilot in Jamaica. On August 25, she completed enough flight time to receive her private pilot’s licence, 10 days after her 22nd...
Hassanah Al-Saba said she always knew she would have achieved the rare feat of being a locally trained female Muslim pilot in Jamaica.
On August 25, she completed enough flight time to receive her private pilot’s licence, 10 days after her 22nd birthday.
Al-Saba, who grew up in Portmore, has been in love with aeroplanes since infanthood. And even as an adult, she still oozes an almost childlike passion for aeronautics.
She was first smitten in Trinidad when she was two or three years old and longed to take control of the cockpit.
“Just the feeling when you take off, when you land, it was just so great, and ever since then, every time an airplane passes by, I’m always looking up at it ... ,” Al-Saba, a past student of St Andrew High School for Girls, said in a Gleaner interview.
“It was so fascinating to me how a metal body can just be in the sky like that. It just blew my mind.”
She didn’t have a huge support cast propelling her towards her dream, and her parents had expressed reservations that gender and religious stereotypes would marginalise her chances of success in aviation.
Al-Saba‘s parents encouraged her to pursue the sciences at high school, and sometime after she got her Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) Unit One results, she was bitten again by flying’s love bug. She started researching how to become a pilot and applied to aviation school abroad but could not finance the courses.
Soon after, the Aeronautical School of the West Indies started offering training at the Tinson Pen Aerodrome in Kingston. And although she was in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in computer science at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Al-Saba said her heart was set on aviation school.
“I don’t want to wake up to a job I hate,” she said, beaming, in reference to her preferred immersion in aviation school.
She signed up in November 2020 after the school was approved to do ground pilot training, kick-starting ground courses in May 2021, all while pursuing her computer science degree at The UWI.
Another challenge, she said, was paying for her pilot’s licence.
“It’s a really expensive feat. I wrote to a lot of companies during my training to see if I can get some support. Maybe they didn’t see the dream behind it at the time, but I did it without their help, and most of my support was from my friends and family,” Al-Saba said.
In order to convince persons in her mission to raise the required US$12,000, she conducted PowerPoint presentations and generated donations of as little as US$50.
Balancing academics and aviation was “really rough”, said Al-Sabah, who endured sleepless nights studying for her university courses.
She started flight training in January this year, while in her final year at The UWI, and was hoping to complete her training and get her pilot’s licence in time for her birthday on August 15, but instead completed her required flights 10 days after.
Al-Saba also obtained her computer science degree and has secured a job as a network centre operations engineer at Digicel Jamaica in June.
Her next major goal is to become a commercial airline pilot.
“Wherever the road takes me, I just know that I want to become an airline pilot … and I know it is going to be an even steeper cost, but I want to show Jamaicans and young women that just because an industry is male dominated, it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for you,” she said.
Five years from now, she sees herself becoming an aviation class instructor.
The Al-Qaeda-led September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in the United States remains a fault line in the global airline industry, causing increased profiling of Muslims.
But those stereotypes have not fazed Al-Saba one bit.
“Yes, there will be stigma with me flying a plane, because they’ll be like, ‘You’re a terrorist’ and dem things, but I’m not going to let that stop me.
“There are so many Muslim women who are pilots across the world and it hasn’t stopped them, so why should it stop me?” she asked.