Saudi airline completes kingdom’s first flight with all-female crew

Low-cost airline flyadeal, a subsidiary of flag carrier Saudia, operated the women-only flight from the capital Riyadh to the coastal city of Jeddah on the Red Sea. PHOTO: TWITTER/FLYADEAL

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Low-cost airline flyadeal, a subsidiary of flag carrier Saudia, operated the women-only flight from the capital Riyadh to the coastal city of Jeddah on the Red Sea. PHOTO: TWITTER/FLYADEAL

An airline in Saudi Arabia carried out the country’s first flight with an all-female crew, officials said on Saturday (May 21st), touting it as a milestone for the empowerment of women in the conservative kingdom.

The flight operated by flyadeal, budget subsidiary of Saudia airline, was from the capital Riyadh to the coastal city of Jeddah on Thursday, flyadeal spokesman Emad Iskandarani said.

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The “majority” of the seven crew members 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 on Saturday, touted the increasing roles of women in the aviation sector in recent years.

In 2019, the authority announced the first flight with a 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, attracting US$100 billion (S$130 billion) in investment in the sector by 2030, establishing a new national airline, building a new “mega airport” in Riyadh and transporting up to five million tons of cargo each year.

Still, industry analysts question whether Saudi-based airlines will be able to compete with 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 driving ban on women for decades and relaxing so-called “guardianship” rules that give men a arbitrary authority over women in their families.

But these have coincided with a crackdown on dissent that has ensnared some of the very women who are calling for such changes.