Empowering Women in Aviation: A Conversation with Ebtesam Mohamed Al-Shamlan

Assistant Undersecretary for Aviation Safety and Security in the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications By Melissa Lamb, Founder and CEO of Aviation Bahrain

In the world of aviation, where precision, safety, and excellence are paramount, women like Ebtesam Al- Shamlan have broken barriers, shattered glass ceilings, and paved the way for others to follow.

As the Assistant Undersecretary of Air Transport and Aviation Safety and Security in Bahrain, Ebtesam AlShamlan’s journey is nothing short of inspiring. In this exclusive interview, she shares her remarkable story and insights into her career in aviation.

Melissa: Could you please tell us about your background, experience, and how you got to the position you are in?

Ebtesam Al-Shamlan: Certainly. But before I begin, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to provide an overview regarding women’s role in the aviation industry. I believe that by working together across the Bahraini aviation industry, we can overcome any challenges and convert these challenges into opportunities.

To answer your question, I am the Assistant Secretary of Air Transport and Aviation Safety and Security. I joined the Bahrain Civil Aviation Affairs team in 1993. I began performing various tasks, supporting various groups across the CAA, and never turning down any assignments or missions offered to me. I actually started my career in banking, not aviation, but I’ve always been eager to expand my knowledge and enhance my capabilities.

I joined the Civil Aviation and International Relations section to familiarise myself with the entire civil aviation industry, its operations, and our relationships with international organisations like ICAO, IATA, the Arab Civil Aviation Organisation, and the GCC Council, among others.

This is crucial because we oversee, monitor and licence all stakeholders and personnel, to ensure their operations and implementation are compliant with ICAO’s rules and regulations. This ensures the provision of safe, secure, and reliable air transport operations by implementing best practices and meeting international standards.

After joining the Civil Aviation International Relations section, I expanded my knowledge by attending many courses, workshops, forums, and other training programmes as well as attending seminars, where I presented working papers on aviation-related matters. I also delivered strategic leadership by being a key part of the senior management decision-making process.

I hold a master’s degree in business with honours and this helped me enormously when applying methodologies I learned in my Master’s to real-world decision- making at a senior level.

Eventually, I was promoted to the Head of the Statistics and Scheduling Departments a unit we established).

I then transitioned to overseeing all operator scheduling, slots, and overflying, which involved numerous requirements in addition to the licensing of all aviation-related activities.

I was then promoted to the Director of Air Transport, becoming the first woman to hold this position in the history of Civil Aviation, followed by a new appointment to Assistant Secretary of Air Transport and Aviation Safety and Security, which covers a wider remit, including aircraft registration, all aviation safety and security matters, oversight, audits of all related stakeholders, issuance of all pilots, aircraft engineers, air traffic controllers, inspectors and aviation medical assessor licences, among others. I was then elected to chair the Air Transport Committee belonging to the GCC Council. This is more than just a title; it’s an obligation and responsibility, followed by chairing the Aviation Environment Committee which has enabled the Kingdom of Bahrain to establish an ICAO State Action Plan to reduce aviation activities emissions and promote sustainable growth across the aviation industry.

Always committed to innovation and driving change, I aim to inspire and exceed expectations and demonstrate that women can contribute significantly to the aviation industry. I also embed frameworks that promote the development of innovative and creative ideas that harmonise the work process and provide added value while driving down costs and reducing time spent.

To date, we have signed 100 air service agreements worldwide, with 40% being semi-liberal and 60% semi-fully liberal. This enhances Bahrain Airport connectivity and provides more opportunities for the travelling public to travel to strategic, high-demand markets. This also attracts more airlines, which in turn opens more destinations, which of course secures industry growth.

In terms of gender equality, I firmly believe that it’s not about gender but about ambition, capability, and seizing opportunities. I encourage women who have the potential to join this dynamic and critical sector. Bahrain has been a pioneer in recruiting and appointing women as air traffic controllers, aircraft engineers, and pilots, and they have proven to be competent and responsible. There are also many training courses available to enhance their capabilities.

To that end, I’m always keen to champion knowledge sharing, and have been teaching at Bahrain University for over 20 years, helping people become a part of our inspiring aviation sector. To me, it is crucial to give something back and enable other women to achieve success in this vibrant sector.

Melissa: Thank you for sharing that. You’ve accomplished a lot of “firsts” in your career, both in the country and the region. How do you feel about being a role model for young women aspiring to have careers in aviation?

Ebtesam Al-Shamlan: I encourage women who have the potential and competence to join this highly motivated sector without hesitation. Aviation is a challenging field involving human lives, safety, security, and airworthiness.

However, women in Bahrain have successfully taken on roles as air traffic controllers, aircraft engineers, and pilots, competing equally with men. I encourage them not to hold back and to take advantage of the many training courses available to excel in this sector. As for my role, I’ve always strived to inspire and lead by example, showing that women can make significant contributions to the aviation industry.

Melissa: As you’ve previously mentioned, you teach at Bahrain University. Could you tell us more about the courses you teach?

Ebtesam Al-Shamlan: Yes, I teach courses in marketing and management. I consider it essential to share my knowledge and experience with my staff, which includes pilots, aircraft engineers, and other highly competent individuals.

This helps maintain a motivated and efficient team, especially given the demanding nature of the aviation sector. It’s all about understanding their strengths and addressing any
weaknesses to ensure they perform at their best.

Melissa: Bahrain has become an attractive destination for companies seeking collaborations and partnerships. What would you say to organisations considering collaborations in Bahrain’s aviation sector?

Ebtesam Al-Shamlan: Bahrain is a pioneer in the aviation industry in the region, having opened its airport early on, in fact, the first in the Gulf region.

We have a wealth of knowledge and resources, and our aviation sector is known for its excellence and adherence to updated international standards.

Bahrain Civil Aviation has a very strong relationship with international, regional, and local organisations and entities and we are working collaboratively to provide a best-in-class and unique travel experience in Bahrain.

The aviation sector is dynamic and interesting, offering opportunities for growth and innovation. Also, Bahrain continues to set a high standard in terms of safety, security, and airworthiness, making it an outstanding destination for aviation collaborations and partnerships.

Ebtesam Al-Shamlan’s journey in the aviation industry is a testament to the power of determination, passion, and a commitment to excellence.

Her role as a pioneer and advocate for gender equality in aviation serves as an inspiration for women across the globe.As Bahrain continues to thrive in the aviation sector, Ebtesam Al-Shamlan’s leadership will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping its future.