Meet the first female air sports pilot in the Middle East

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Reem Al Kuthairi has always been fascinated by extreme sports. Her lack of trepidation comes from her father, who always encouraged her to embrace her fears. “If my father saw that I was afraid of anything, he would convince me that there was nothing to be scared or worried about. Those early lessons changed my mindset, which is why I’m doing what I’m doing now,” she explains.

Reem is the first woman to obtain a microlight pilot’s licence in the Middle East. She owns the first aircraft registered to a female in Qatar and was the first female in the region with multiple air sports licences.

‘My family were very shocked’

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), flying is considered the safest mode of long-distance transport. Most nations are members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which sets out aviation safety standards and practices. Reem’s microlight can glide without engine power and her aircraft is regularly checked by Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority for airworthiness. Despite these safety measures and precautions, Reem’s family were initially worried about her becoming a pilot.

“When I started thinking about becoming a pilot, my family were very shocked. They know I love extreme sports, but I shocked them when I told them I wanted to get the licence. My brother was like, ‘Oh, please don’t do this. We love you, we don’t want to lose you.’ However, after I got my licence, my family realised that it was safe and they were very happy and proud of me,” she explains.

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‘Flying is freedom for me’

A microlight is a powered hang glider in which Reem controls flight direction by shifting her weight. Her aircraft has a cruising speed of 100-120 kilometers per hour and has a range of up to 800 miles.

“Flying is freedom for me, especially in a light aircraft. You have direct contact with nature and this is what I really love about it. There’s no barrier. You feel the wind. You see the mountains. You see the snow. Everything looks different from above,” says Reem.

‘You feel like a bird.’

Reem flies three to four days per week and says her favourite feeling is the moment when her aircraft takes off. “The feeling of taking off and going against gravity is something very special. You feel like a bird. It’s just amazing,” she recounts.

“The first impression you get is the view. You’re really high, and you feel really small when you’re up. Seeing the world from a different perspective makes you think of God’s creation,” Reem tells Scenes.

“It is like meditating. It can be relaxing. It’s just freedom. You feel like you’re the one who is flying, not your equipment,” she continued.

One of the biggest challenges Reem has encountered whilst flying is the weather. Extreme weather conditions can cause turbulence in the air, making pilots uncomfortable. Another challenge she must be aware of during all flights is the possibility of engine failure.

“As a pilot, you have to expect this to happen at any time. We are trained for this. Even if you do all your inspections, even if you are sure about your aircraft, you should always be ready and keep an eye on emergency landing spots,” says Reem.

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“Flying the flag for Qatar”

Reem is one of the few people practising high altitude flying in the world. Before getting into aviation, Reem was an elite handball player with The Qatar National Team from 2001 to 2009. Despite retiring, Reem still finds herself representing her country. In France, she took off from a height of 3,842 metres, the highest take-off made by anyone from Qatar.

“Whenever people see that I’m Qatari and a woman, they would normally be surprised. They would say, are you from Qatar, are you allowed to do this?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, why not?’ People have the wrong information sometimes. I’m really happy that I’m one of the Qataris who’s changing this mentality around the world,” she states.

Reem has flown aircraft in many countries around the world, but her favourite place to fly is her home country. “In Qatar, I’ve flown almost everywhere. I really love flying at night. Night flying is one of the best things you can ever try in Qatar, especially when you fly over skyscrapers. It’s beautiful,” she says.


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