July 16, 2018 / 4:55 PM / 5 months ago

Saudi aviation academy to train first women pilots

DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - A flight school in Saudi Arabia is opening its doors for women, following the end of a decades-long driving ban in the deeply conservative Muslim country where many social restrictions are easing.

Oxford Aviation Academy, a leading trainer and crew recruiter, has already received applications from hundreds of women hoping to start lessons in September at a new branch in the eastern city of Dammam.

“People used to travel abroad (to study aviation), which was difficult for women more than men,” said applicant Dalal Yashar, who aspires to work as a civil pilot.

“We are no longer living in the era were women were allowed (to work) in limited arenas. All avenues are now opened for women. If you have the appetite, you have the ability,” she said.

The academy is part of a $300 million (£226.7 million) project that includes a school for aircraft maintenance and an international centre for flight simulators at the airport.

Students receive three years of academic and practical training, said executive director Othman al-Moutairy.

A decades-long ban on women driving, long seen as an emblem of women’s repression in the country, was lifted last month, as part of sweeping reforms pushed by powerful young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aimed at transforming the economy and opening up its cloistered society.

The lifting of the prohibition was welcomed by Western allies as proof of a new progressive trend in Saudi Arabia, but it has been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including against some of the very activists who previously campaigned against the ban.

Writing by Dahlia Nehme, Editing by Stephen Kalin, William Maclean

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