“The pilot is a Lady: Interview with Rola Hoteit”

“Valutata positivamente la bontà dell’evento, il Ministro per le Pari Opportunità, Onorevole Elena Bonetti, vi augura un buon svolgimento della manifestazione.”

Il 2021 si aprirà con un incontro del tutto esclusivo dal titolo The pilot is a Lady, nel quale la Società Italiana Aviazione Civile proporrà al Comandante Rola Hoteit, primo e unico Comandante donna nel Libano, un’intervista vertente su argomenti di carattere aviatorio di grande rilievo. L’evento si aprirà con un’introduzione a cura dell’Ambasciatrice d’Italia a Beirut, Nicoletta Bombardiere, nel quale si ricorderà l’apporto fornito dall’Italia all’avvio di Middle East Airlines durante il secondo dopoguerra. Si analizzeranno inoltre, assieme al Comandante Hoteit, il ruolo sempre più importante delle donne nell’industria aeronautica e lo spirito di resilienza dell’aviazione civile alla pandemia mondiale SARS-CoV-2. L’incontro rappresenterà un importante momento di scambio di idee con uno dei protagonisti più influenti nello scenario aeronautico nel Medio Oriente e verrà presentato online (in rispetto delle restrizioni dovute all’attuale situazione epidemiologica) Sabato 9 Gennaio 2021.

Introduzione a cura dell’Ambasciatrice d’Italia a Beirut

Con questa intervista la Società Italiana Aviazione Civile è orgogliosa di portare il proprio contributo alla collaborazione tra i nostri due Paesi, un’amicizia che svolse anche un ruolo non trascurabile nella nascita della Middle East Airlines, la compagnia per cui lavora il Comandante Hoteit. L’Ambasciata d’Italia e la Società Italiana Aviazione Civile sostengono il pieno raggiungimento della parità di genere, in ogni ambito sociale e professionale; in tale senso il Comandante Hoteit è oramai una figura iconica: prima donna libanese a ricoprire il grado di comandante; Vice Presidente dell’IFALPA nella regione mediorientale; nel 2016 per la BBC una delle 100 donne più influenti nel mondo. È noto che, da sempre, l’aviazione civile costituisce un vettore cruciale per avvicinare i popoli e favorire il dialogo tra le culture; essa svolge, inoltre, un ruolo imprescindibile nella lotta globale alla pandemia SARS-CoV-2, fornendo il mezzo più rapido e sicuro per il trasporto dei vaccini. Le capacità, la determinazione e le doti umane del Comandante Hoteit sono il miglior esempio per indicarci la via che porterà alla sconfitta di questo nemico tremendo. L’Ambasciata d’Italia sottolinea, inoltre, come, nel quadro dei consolidati rapporti di amicizia, Italia e Libano siano impegnate nel favorire le condizioni per costruire pace, sviluppo e prosperità; dal 2006 i nostri militari costituiscono un pilastro della rinnovata missione ONU UNIFIL, attualmente sotto comando italiano.


La Società Italiana Aviazione Civile è lieta di presentare:

The pilot is a Lady: Interview with Captain Rola Hoteit

First of all thank you, Captain, for accepting our interview proposal. What, would you say, have been the most significant stages on your amazing career?

The aviation field is a very exciting field in itself. The lifestyle, the lack of routine, the scenery through the cockpit windows, the exposure to different cultures, the challenge of defying gravity and flying a complicated machine are only few examples of why almost every person is curious and interested in this field. And what makes it better is that on top of its uniqueness and adventurous lifestyle, the pay is good. However, throughout our career years, there’s always certain times that are more exciting than the rest. To me, definitely the two best days of my life (from a career perspective) are when I was accepted into the aviation school and when I got upgraded to Captain. Both events marked a huge change in my life. And in both events I was the pioneer in my country as a female to enter the aviation field and to be the first female Lebanese captain. My life challenges never ended there. In addition to flying, I went back to university (while flying at the same time) and finished my BS in Mathematics, MA in Aviation Psychology and MA in Philosophy of Physics. And each degree I finished also marked special days and achievements throughout my life. On top, I managed to raise two beautiful boys in the most unstable country really well. I can’t say that the path was easy, but who said we should ever choose the easy path? One last special event I would like to mention is the day other females decided to become pilots. For 22 years I was the only female pilot in my country, and not having others join could have reflected badly on my achievements. Some might interpret this as if I failed and that’s why other females were unmotivated. So I started giving private lectures at schools and universities as well as on TV telling the girls out there that they can do anything they dream of, one of which is to fly. Fortunately, some listened and were motivated, and today we have 5 female Lebanese copilots.

In the fight against the pandemic SARS-CoV-2, it would be of extreme importance to provide 60-70 percent of the world population with immunity against the virus (by vaccination). Air transport plays an important role in this fight, however thousands of non-existing aircrafts would be needed. Do you have any ideas on how this obstacle could be overcome?

2020 has been a horrible year from all aspects due to Covid-19. Everyone’s life has been distrusted in one way or another. The aviation field also is having its share. The only possible way to go back to our normal lives is by having three quarters of the earth population vaccinated against this virus. To deliver those vaccines around the world, the aviation sector plays a huge role. Actually the only possible means of transportation to move those vaccines is by planes. Yet, most of the planes are grounded and many pilots have lost the validity of their licenses. All the world airlines had to reduce (and some had to stop) it’s operation because of the lockdowns that were imposed all over the world. However, and since the planes are not transporting passengers these days, those planes could be used to transport the vaccines around the globe. Instead of transpiring the vaccine in the cargo holds by the very few passenger planes that are still operational; it would be a much more convenient and faster way to move the vaccines by the non operational planes. The faster and more vaccines are transported, the sooner our passengers and planes will be up in the air.

In your own opinion, what could be the added value of you being a woman brought to the profession you are in, considering also your eminent role in IFALPA?

I have been flying for over 25 years. By that time, in my country even though it’s considered to be a very open minded society compared to other neighboring counties in the Middle East, women had very limited roles in the work field. Our main role in society is to be mothers and we can join the work field, but our jobs should not interfere or be prioritized over our family duties. Hence, when I became a pilot, I decided not to break all the traditions and beliefs my society has, and that’s why I ended up accepting to get married at a young age (around 19 years old). My main challenge and objective was to prove that I can balance my life between a very challenging and a “masculine-labeled” job and my role as a mother and wife. In other words, I wanted to prove that I can do what men can do and even more by maintaining the importance of the family values we have in this country. And what’s important is that if I succeed then I will have opened the door for other females to dream and achieve. When I realized that by knowing how to prioritize my schedule and to reduce the useless time wasting issues, I managed to succeed in both: my family life and my career. So I started to add the load and that’s why I went back to university; thereafter I ran for elections for the regional Vice President position for IFALPA and I won that too. I really hope that women in my country, and in my region, can see how much powers and potentials they carry inside, how much they can tune those potentials and direct them at doing what long time ago we used to think it’s the impossible. Bring a woman in a male dominated career helped me to prove that we are mentally, physically and emotionally equal to men. All that we need is to be given the same opportunities that men get and to be given the knowledge that “yes we can” by observing other females as examples. I really hope that I am able to be an example that would make women believe more in themselves and make men trust women more. If I can do it, then every other woman on this planet can.

What kind of challenges have you faced and overcome being the trail blazer female pilot in the Middle East?

My whole career started as a challenge. I was a math student at the American University of Beirut. A male friend of mine walked into the math department carrying a newspaper which showed an ad saying that my National Airline was hiring pilots, both females and males. He was mentioning the ad sarcastically claiming that women can’t drive cars safely so how is it possible for them to fly planes. I became very defensive and tried to argue against his point. Eventually I ended up challenging him that we both sit for the entrance exam and see who can pass it. Now, 25 years later, I fly planes and he doesn’t. That was the first challenge that changed my whole life. Passing that exam was the easiest challenge I faced. Convincing my dad that I want to quit my math degree and go into aviation was the second. As a matter of fact, I come from a small village in southern Lebanon and my family is somewhat conservative so it wasn’t an easy idea for them to have their daughter lead a very revolutionary (from a traditional perspective) life. My dad refused. So I dropped all my math courses at the American University of Beirut and decided to quit college. I gave my dad the option of either finding me a suitable husband or allowing me to travel and study aviation abroad. Having no better choice, my dad had to give in eventually. I traveled to Scotland, finished my ATPL there and came back to Lebanon to commence my flying career. The third challenge was to have my colleagues and passengers accept me in the cockpit. I faced many objections and heard more sarcastic remarks. I even once had a passenger disembark the plane because I was the captain on board. However, nowadays I was able to prove myself and I get passengers asking to book on my flights.

What are the must-carry-along books in a pilot’s suitcase and what advice would you like to give to a young person who wants to become a pilot?

With eBooks and the flexibility of carrying hundreds of eBooks on our pads or kindles, a pilot can enjoy a multitude of books about all topic a pilot is interested in. However, I believe every pilot should carry a book (or a digital copy) of indexed maps for every country in the world. As we overfly the different countries, it’s nice to have a sky view of the topography and interesting sites of those countries that we can locate through the maps at hand. For those teenagers who dream of becoming pilots one day, I would strongly advise you to follow this dream. Personally, there’s no better job I’d like to do than flying those complicated machines. I guess I have already talked a lot in the previous questions of the advantages of this job. Every choice we take in life has its advantages and disadvantages but, trust me, the advantages of our job outweighs its disadvantages. Along your path, some might try to demotivate you, and at points you might find that it’s getting hard to achieve your dream. Just try to hold on a bit longer because your success is just around the corner. Dream big; work hard; achieve and be proud!

“The challenges Captain Hoteit has faced in the aviation industry resonate with those of other women in similar male-dominated sectors. I firmly believe women should be everywhere decisions are being made – the cockpit included.

It is wonderful to see that the Italian Civil Aviation Society is committed to amplifying women’s stories, and, in doing so, paving the way for future women leaders.”

Michelle Milford Morse
Vice President, United Nations Foundation

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