Dr. Eng. Suaad Sultan Alshamsi: Aviation consultant, First female aircraft engineer in the UAE
I am Dr Eng. Suaad Sultan Alshamsi, a proud woman and Emirati thriving in an exciting field dominated by men: aviation and engineering. I am a passionate aircraft engineer, hailed as the first woman in the UAE to land in this profession. Currently, I am an aviation consultant for Abu Dhabi’s new Midfield Terminal, one of the biggest airport terminals in the world. I am also married to a wonderful husband and we’re proud parents of two adorable boys.
I am the youngest of four siblings. I grew up under the loving guidance of my mother and older siblings because my father passed away when I was only a year old. Looking back at my childhood, I remember how different I was compared with other children of my age. I used to play with toy planes and cars instead of dolls and toy makeup kits. Somehow, this hinted that I will be pursuing an unlikely profession for women. My family also knew that I am unwavering—persisting until I get things done.
My dreams morphed into a more concrete objective when I pursued Aviation Management as a field of study. I didn’t stop there: I built a steady fire, growing bigger as the years pass. I finished my Bachelor’s degree and MBA in Aviation Management at Coventry University, UK. Taking my studies to a higher level, I also took up a degree in Aerospace Engineering from Hertfordshire University. Currently, I’m pursuing a Doctorate in Public Administration (DPA) in Aviation Management at the American Academy for Special Studies, which I will be completing on December 16 of this year.
Today, I stand as one of the proud founders of the Middle East Chapter of Women in Aviation. I received an honorary PhD from the American Academy for Special Studies in line with my advocacy to support and empower women in the field of aviation. My success is founded on the support of my family and the UAE government because they believed in my dreams and respected the path that I’ve taken.
Why did you decide on a career in aviation?
On a personal note, I entered the world of aviation because I truly loved planes. Even in my childhood, imagining the level of engineering and science involved in making these amazing machines fly thousands of feet above the ground fascinated me. Something about taking flight—being able to transcend and defy gravity—leaves a feeling of awe that I cannot simply describe.
I also want to change the perception of society on the roles that women should take. Despite the global modernisation and availability of education for everyone, many are still not open to believing that women can venture in fields considered monopolised by men. I want more women to realise that they can dream differently.
What does it mean to be the first female Emirati aircraft engineer?
Back then, no one dared to think that a woman can be an aircraft engineer specialising in aircraft landing, brakes and wheels. I defied this notion, and for this reason, I am proud as a woman.
Being the first female Emirati to become an aircraft engineer also makes me proud as an Emirati, and I am glad that through my role in the profession, I am able to inspire my fellow countrymen, especially women, to raise the bar in acquiring higher professional expertise and competence in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.
I also have the honour of pushing the progressive advocacy of advancing the role of women in the UAE. Women are as capable as men in fields once thought as only fit for men. We are able to take flight, and if the sky's the limit, then we should not be simply confined in our homes. We are strong in mind and heart, and that makes us competent too.
Have you faced any challenges being a woman in a male-dominated industry? If so, what were/are the main challenges?
Yes, there are many challenges, both professional and personal. In the field, you must be ready to work long hours. Most people will also find that the working conditions in the aviation industry are uncomfortable and hazardous. Noise levels, in particular, are high and distracting. As an engineer, I am also exposed to extreme temperatures depending on the weather. Working in cramped or narrow spaces is also typical. Aircraft personnel, in general, are also at risk of being exposed to hazardous chemicals, fuels and equipment.
Personally, I’ve also encountered hostility and antagonism because of my gender. I aim to maintain professionalism at all times despite these challenges, outdaring unhelpful criticism by doing my best every single day. We should aim to produce results regardless of the challenges we encounter at work—but this should not mean that we must tolerate matters arising from discrimination.
What is your message to women, especially Emirati women, who want to go into ‘a man’s job’?
My message to every woman—whether you are an Emirati, Arab or of foreign descent—is succinct and simple: trust yourself and your passions. Veer away from the common opinion of what a woman should be and do—for you alone as a person can define your identity for yourself.
When I am the only woman in the room I __________.
I do not allow myself to be dominated. I stand as a leader, especially when I’m the one in charge. I wear my best smile as I always do. And does it really matter if I am the only woman in the room?
What is your ‘secret sauce’?
I pride in looking my best every day: I wear my best clothes and comfortable heels coupled with my usual perfect smile. I start my day with an energising cup of coffee, ready to take on the challenges of the day with enthusiasm.
What are the key points for developing the next generation of female leaders in your world?
Today, women are at the forefront of changing the modern landscape of business, science and society. We are more involved today than we were decades ago: stronger, more knowledgeable and more conscious of our rights.
The key for the next generation of female leaders and visionaries is to find their passions and build their foundations of knowledge upon their subjects of interest. Knowledge, I should say, is the most formidable asset that no person can ever take away from you. And if you learn and study more about your passions, work will become second nature to you.
As you grow and find stability in your chosen field or career, build your own personal brand and invest in building strong professional and business relationships. Attaining your life’s balance will surely follow after finding your own niche.
Outside of aviation, what are you involved in?
I established my own learning and consulting company called L2L, which stands for ‘Learn to Live’. Through L2L, we help and inspire other individuals to pursue their goals and dreams. We organise lectures and public speeches in the UAE and in other parts of the world.
As a creative thinker and a natural lover of knowledge, I have also written and published four novels depicting life as a woman in the Middle East, as well as romance, namely: I Wish to Kill My Man: How to Kill your Man with no Evidence, Barcode, Lovers between Dubai and Egypt, and Crazy World. Notably, my book with the title I Wish to Kill My Man will be translated into English soon. Two of these novels are based on true stories of real people. Currently, my novels are available in Arabic.
Most importantly, I also consider being a wife and a mother as a so-called ‘area of preoccupation’. I am a doting mother to two adorable kids, as I’ve said earlier. With all the busy schedules and appointments, we must allot time for the family, even in the midst of our hustle and professional undertakings.
What questions are you asking yourself lately?
I’ve been asking these questions to myself:
- When was the last time I told myself, “I love you?”
Oftentimes, we are unforgiving to our own selves. We must step back to assess the degree of self-care we actually provide to ourselves, especially in times when we most need it.
- Am I a better person today than I was yesterday?
If our goal is to grow and learn relentlessly, this is one question we should always ask ourselves.
- Am I a good example for those around me?
I think it is not enough to be successful for your own sake. Success is best enjoyed when shared with the people around you, and that means you must be willing to be a good example.
- What would I do with my life if I knew there were no limits?
We are always free to imagine possibilities and converse inside our heads about the spectrum of choices and decisions we can make at any given time. I like to wonder, from time to time, if I am truly living my life to the fullest. If there were no limits at all, where is my path going to take me? It’s an interesting question to pose, especially when we experience existential crises. It’s a way for us to extract or assign meaning to our lives.
How do you look after your mental health?
I take deep breaths. It is important for me to keep myself active while maintaining a balanced diet and adequate hydration. I also think it helps to talk about my feelings, but the most important stress outlet for me is reading.
What is one quote that you live by?
You have one life to live.
Live life to the fullest, and aim to have a balanced lifestyle where you can have the least worries. This might mean that you might have to work harder than everyone else, but at the end of the day, your efforts will bear fruit. You have to trust that everything is going to work out, even though there are difficulties and challenges along the way.