In a new series in partnership with Panerai we meet some of the UAE’s most inspiring women. Dr Eng. Suaad Al Shamsi the UAE’s first aircraft engineer discusses women’s empowerment and why she is proud to be Emirati.
Suaad wears: Panerai PAM1280, Luminor Due Goldtech™️ Madreperla, 38mm, White mother of pearl dial
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Dr Eng. Suaad Al Shamsi was the first female aircraft engineer in the United Arab Emirates. Specialising in landing gear Al Shamsi defied all the odds to achieve a dream that has been with her since she was a child. Her fascination with planes began long before her career path did, and she spent many years fixing cars before travelling to The United Kingdom to study.
She qualified as an aircraft engineer in London before returning to Dubai to pursue the role in her home country. Today, Al Shamsi is working in a research and advisory role at the new Midfield Terminal at Abu Dhabi Airport role as well as a consultant and advisor to other women and young students on how to achieve a career in the aviation industry. She teaches Aeronautical Engineering at a University in the UAE and she also writes novels in her spare time.
She is a key member of the Women In Aviation group; a non-profit organisation that encourages women to enter the field of aviation and is known for her empowering words to other aspiring engineers. Here, we discover more about her passion for aeroplanes, her love for watches and her dreams of encouraging other women to follow in her footsteps.
How has your choice of career has shaped you as a person?
I always say that aviation is my first marriage! It’s not only a relationship of love but it’s also a true passion that I have for the industry. Working in aviation has made me more responsible, more aware, and more passionate about women’s empowerment, especially because it’s a field with very few women. It makes me want to spread this awareness around the world. I like to share the advantages of entering this field with other women because a lot of people don’t understand the benefits of all the roles that come under the umbrella of aviation.
What does a working day look like to you?
I have a different routine each day and I’m always in action and I am working with both internal and external departments. My day always begins with a cup of coffee (I’m addicted to coffee), then I start to look at which projects I need to work on and which departments I have meetings with that day. My week is divided – sometimes I can in be office time and sometimes I must be on-site inspecting the area and see how things are playing out. So, there is no routine, each day is different but what I will say is that I have a lot more action than someone in a normal office job. My days are long, they can be up to twelve hours. Sometimes I’ll be wearing my uniform and sometimes I’ll be wearing an abaya. Every day is a crazy day!
Which part of your role do you enjoy the most?
I love to be with the aircraft and on the site, being in action as it makes me feel more energetic. I hate sitting in an office and I love to wear safety shoes and my uniform!
What about when you have days off, how do you spend your time?
My days off are spent reading and detoxing my soul, heart and brain. During the week my mind is always working so when I take a holiday or have a day off it allows me to detox and change the way I’m thinking as well as spend time with my kids, my partner my mother. This is the time I can be the real Suaad, without any pressure. During the week I am under pressure all day and constantly in action so when I have time off, I relax and recharge myself for the next week.
The UAE is celebrating 50 years this month, what does this occasion mean to you?
Words can’t even describe what it means. It means a lot: love, joy, happiness, pride. We are not only united as Emiratis but as citizens, expats, visitors etc. I think it is about connecting and uniting our brains and hearts to be loyal to this country and to show that while 50 years is a small number compared to many countries, we have achieved so much and that makes me proud to say I’m Emirati. I’m proud to be in this country, to work in this country and to have a vision and plan for the next 50 or 100 years.
What is a message that you would send to your country on this occasion?
I would say that I am proud of my country and our rulers and leaders. I am proud of how we have almost two hundred nationalities living here and I’m proud of everyone. Especially His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and all the leaders from all the seven Emirates. We are not united just as a country or as Emirates, but we are united in the way we are thinking and feeling for our country. We will continue to have this loyalty and make the UAE proud of us for another 50 years.
How will you be spending the upcoming UAE National Day?
I am doing something different this year. I will be celebrating as part of an event in The United Kingdom, which is where I studied. They are connecting students from the UAE who have travelled to study in the UK over the last 50 years. I was there 21 years ago and to have this reconnection and to see all the proud Emiratis who have graduated will be a unique celebration. I will be happy to see people who I have known for 20 years. Then the following day I will be celebrating here in the UAE with my family from every generation.
Looking back, what is a memory that stays with you from throughout your career?
When I first decided to pursue a career in aviation a lot of people laughed at me. Around that time, we were just starting to hear a lot about gender equality and women’s empowerment, but now we can see the changes and it makes me proud to see that what I was fighting for is happening now. There are now a lot of female leaders in many fields, and I always think of the memory from before this started to happen and how we wanted it to change. Now we are living it. I feel that this moment today will be a good memory to look back on in the future.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career and how did you overcome them?
The main challenge I have faced is connected to the low percentage of women working in aeronautical engineering and in the aviation industry in general. The challenge for me was to show everyone that I am in the right place with my passion and dream. I have shown the world that a woman can be working anywhere if she has a dream and I always believe if you dream it, you can do it. I want to show the world that women have opportunities, and we are not in competition with men, we are supporting our colleagues in the industry, regardless of gender. So, this was the biggest challenge I have faced and still do every time I get asked why I entered this field. I always tell say; “why not?”. There are no rules to say that the aviation industry is only for men, and I want to show the world that a woman can be wearing a uniform as much as she can be wearing high heels and nice clothes. She can be at work, but she can also be a mother, a wife and a daughter and I think this is what we need to share with the world.
What would you still like to achieve that you haven’t done yet?
In the next two years, my goal is to have a special institute dedicated to educating women in aeronautical engineering and to have the first batch of females graduate in the field of aviation.
What does time mean to you?
I always say that with the busy lives we are living right now, time is very important. I always think about how I spend my time and how I can take advantage of every single minute to get the most out of it. Today time is about responsibility and the enjoyment of life. I use this equation of time = life, so how you spend your time will determine how much you enjoy your life.
We know you have a passion for watches, what do you look for in a watch?
I am crazy about watches! But not every watch. I always look for quality and I love to understand the history of the brand and the history of the watch specifically. A lot of people are so addicted to watches because celebrities wear them or influential people wear them, which is fine, but they don’t know the history of the watch or how it was designed, and for me, when I have a watch, I like to know the history, the materials used, the mechanism and the brand. And how after this many years it still has its value and its image is still relevant and for me, this is the most important part. So yes, every watch I have has a memory connected to it.
What’s a lesson that you have learnt throughout your career that you can share with us?
Be passionate, be patient and enjoy what you do. A lot of people want to progress further in their careers very fast, they are not patient and want everything to happen at once. I started my career as a mechanic, then I was a technician, then an engineer, – if you take your career step by step and learn and be passionate about it you will reach your goals.
What’s a message you would send to women who are thinking of getting into the aviation industry?
If you can dream it, you can do it and you can achieve it. The aviation industry is an opportunity for a lot of women because there is only a small percentage of females working in this industry and the door has opened for us now. It’s the time to think out of the box, be unique and choose differently and I think the aviation industry is at the right point for a lot of women to choose this career path.
How do you manage your time and create a work/life balance?
Well, I have a big calendar! I write down everything related to work, my family, my free time etc. so I don’t lose track I think it’s important to have the right amount of time for each part of your life: family, hobbies, my career and for myself, and I keep it all in my calendar so I don’t forget, I think this is the only way when you have a busy life. I try to enjoy every moment however I’m spending it.
We heard you have just released a new book, what can you tell us about it?
Usually, I write novels, and this is the first book I have written as a series of articles. It is focused on happiness, enjoyment and how you reconnect with yourself. It’s about keeping positive when we have such busy lives, and it will soon be translated into English as well.
What else is in the pipeline for you for the rest of this year and into next year?
We have Dubai Air Show coming up and as Women in Aviation, we are a big part of this. We will have a big conference next year for Women in Aviation connected to sustainability, empowerment etc. and this is the first time we will be talking about the challenges for women in the industry and how we can help the new generation to pass what they are facing. This is what I’m working on right now and we will also have our first conference in Saudi Arabia to help a lot of women to understand the industry.
How would you describe yourself in one word?