Talar Faiq Salih

Airport Director

Erbil International Airport

Few women are given the chance to head an airport, especially in the Middle East, but Talar Faiq Salih is up for the challenge. 

Born in 1967 in Suliamani, a Kurdistan city in Iraq, Salih studied English translation at the University of Mustansiriyah in Baghdad. 

By 1991, she began her career with the United Nations as an aid worker in Iraq's refugee zones. She stayed with UN for nearly a decade before moving to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) where she continued her work for refugees. 

Around this time, Salih was already based in London and became a representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government in the UK. 

In 2009, she decided to return to her homeland and in no time was tapped to become the director at Erbil International Airport in August of 2010, steering the office to greater heights with new airlines, cargo carriers and increase on passenger traffic. Less than a year after managing the airport, she was recognized and awarded the 'Best Woman in Aviation' at the Emerging Markets Airport Awards, in Dubai.

The humanitarian advocate turned airport executive says there are many challenges such as keeping up with international standards while maintaining a safe and secure environment for the passengers and airport employees amid continued terror threat in the forefront, but she's optimistic Iraq will bounce back and that Kurdistan will remain the gateway it.

Aireen Omar

Chief Executive Officer, AirAsia Berhad

Aireen Omar has been AirAsia Berhad’s Chief Executive Officer since 2012. 

She hails from Petaling Jaya, and is an Economics graduate of the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) and also holds a Master’s in Economics from New York University (NYU). 

Aireen has been a member of the senior management team since 2006 and is instrumental in shaping the development of AirAsia Berhad into one of the fastest growing and most highly-acclaimed airline globally. 

She joined AirAsia as the Director of Corporate Finance. Today, she oversees close to 7,000 staff at AirAsia Berhad, across 18 hubs in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and India, serving over 100 destinations across the region with a fleet of 170 Airbus A320. 

Reporting directly to the co-founders of AirAsia, Aireen plays an integral part in mapping out its growth plans and maintain its trajectory despite increased competition around the region. She began her career at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc, in New York. Reporting directly to the co-founders of AirAsia, Aireen plays an integral part in mapping out its growth plans and maintain its trajectory despite increased competition around the region. She began her career at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc, in New York. 

Her last position being at the Equity Arbitrage Proprietary Trading Desk focusing on international equities, equity derivatives and equity-linked products, she returned to Malaysia in 2001, and served several major local financial institutions including the Maybank Group. 

Aireen is a recipient of numerous local and international leadership awards and  continues to push the envelope for the growth of the region’s aviation industry.


Shaesta Waiz

Dreams Soar Aviator

Shaesta Waiz is an Afghan born in a refugee camp in America where her family escaped in 1987 during the Soviet-Afghan war era. 

She grew up with her five sisters in Richmond, California, in a poor community where she claims “sharing textbooks with classmates and watching friends drop out of high school was the norm.” 

Her life changed when she fell in love with aviation and pursued relentlessly a degree at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she also took her master's, becoming the first in their family to get higher education. 

At Embry-Riddle, she started the Women's Ambassador Program to help mentor young women pursue education in aviation and engineering.

In 2016, Dreams Soar (www.dreamssoar.org), an initiative designed to help share and promote the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, was launched. 

Under this initiative, Waiz will attempt to make a historic voyage to circumnavigate the world on her own. She will make 28 stops on five continents in 18 countries and each time, she will hold an outreach program to encourage women to believe in themselves. 

“Every time I open the door to an aircraft, I ask myself, 'How did a girl with my background become so lucky?' The truth is, anyone can be me. You must believe in yourself and allow your dreams to soar,” says the 28-year-old Waiz.


Laila Ali Bin Hareb Al Muhari

Executive Director, Strategy & International Affairs,

UAE General Civil Aviation Authority

A corporate strategist with vast experience in developing and implementing strategic direction for major organizations in the public sector, Laila Hareb is the first Arab lady to hold a vital strategic position in the MENA region.

Her areas of expertise extends over a variety of management sectors such as Strategic Planning, organizational development, corporate performance functions, quality & excellence and stake holder relationship management. 

Her previous experience and achievements include developing a three year Corporate Strategy Plan and Balanced Score Card, development and implementation of CRM strategy for national transportation where as the Director-Strategy and Corporate Performance, she was instrumental in establishing performance standards as well as strategic and planning excellence in the organization. 

Hareb undertook major restructuring projects for various organizations.  She also brings a wealth of experience in the areas of Information Technology, Training, Corporate Marketing and communication. She initiated and personally managed training programs for aviation personnel in different continents, notably training for ladies in aviation. 

Hareb joined the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) in September 2009 to lead its Strategic Planning and Corporate Excellence Department. In a little over two years since she began her work there, it was awarded the prestigious Sheikh Khalifa Government Excellence Program (SKGEP) award in recognition of its best practices in the areas of Strategic Planning and Performance Management systems. In addition to this, it was also recognized as the government entity with the most improved performance. 


Michele van Akelijen

Managing Director, F&E Aerospace

Michele van Akelijen is the Managing Director of F&E Aerospace, a division of F&E which is a member of the Tarsus Group plc., one of the most influential and long-standing names in the Middle East’s events sector, delivering world- class international trade events including the internationally-acclaimed Dubai Airshow. 

Michele is an experienced Aerospace and Defence Event professional with over 26 years of experience.

She took over the management of the entire Aerospace portfolio as a Managing Director in February 2013.

Since joining F&E Aerospace in 2006, Michele has been instrumental in developing the company’s expanding aerospace events portfolio which includes Dubai Airshow Gulf Aviation Training Event (GATE), MEBAA Show Morocco, Aircraft Interiors Middle East (AIME), Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Middle East (MRO ME) and MEBAA Show.

Prior to joining F&E Aerospace, Michele began her career in the USA with companies such as TWI and then moved to the UK in a senior management position with Premier Showfreight where she handled key clients such as Gulfstream, DMA – Defence Manufacturers Association and Boeing Interiors Middle East (AIME), Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Middle East (MRO ME) and MEBAA Show.


Poonam Datta

Chief Compliance Officer,

Globe Express Services


Poonam Datta is an accomplished and vastly experienced business leader with 25 years of experience in the global supply chain & logistics industry. 

Datta has worked with A.P. Moller-Maersk Group from 1990 to 2006 and quickly grew through the ranks to become one of the youngest managing directors in the organization. 

During her tenure, she spearheaded the company's revitalization program in the Middle East, leading Maersk Line, Safmarine and Maersk Logistics to unprecedented growth in the region. 

Datta also served as Group CCO for a regional port & logistics service provider. She is currently the CCO for the US-based Globe Express Services, a global logistics provider with presence in 100 countries. 

Datta hails from an aristocratic and illustrious family in India. Her father, Anand Datta, is a successful writer/filmmaker while her mother, Sneh Datta, is a linguist professor. Her grandfather, Dr. G.L. Datta, was a great academician and physicist who founded the DAV colleges in India, and also served as the Vice Chancellor of Ujjain University. 

A world-class business consultant with a post graduate degree in business management, Datta is an avid reader and enjoys writing and listening to music. She follows sports and has contributed towards community development.

Hanadi Zakaria Al Hindi

First Female Pilot,

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia


Hanadi Zakaria Al Hindi is the first licensed woman pilot in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which to date remains opposed to female drivers.

She studied at Jordan's Middle East Academy of Aviation in 2001 and successfully got her license after graduation.

Thereafter, she worked as a pilot for Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's private plane but wasn't allowed to fly within the Kingdom's air space until 2014 when she successfully secured her commercial pilot license.

Al Hindi credits the self-made billionaire Prince Al Waleed, a proponent of women empowerment, for convincing the reclusive Saudi Arabia to issue her a commercial pilot license, the first for a woman in the country to get such.

Al Hindi is currently exploring opportunities to become a commercial pilot while inspiring others like her to break the glass ceiling.


Fatima Al Mansoori

Pilot, UAE Air Force


Fatima Al Mansoori holds the record as the first Emirati woman to fly a Lockheed C-130 Hercules turboprop military transport aircraft. 

That stint in early 2016 put her at par with other pioneering female pilots in the region. 

Her love for flying began at an early age and by the time she reached her 20s she has received her pilot license. 

In 2008, she graduated from the Khalifa bin Zayed Air College, getting inspiration and support from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

She was the only girl in the UAE Air Force at that time, thus, becoming the first female cadet pilot in the country. 

Over the years, she has flown a C-130 plane as co-pilot in different humanitarian missions in Somalia, Pakistan, among other countries. 

For now, Ms. Mansoori is focusing on the academe taking up her master's in aviation safety at Emirates Aviation University, according to her LinkedIn profile. 

She hopes to continue soaring and exploring the vast aviation industry in the years to come. 


Liana Coyne


Coyne Airways

Liana Coyne is a Director at Coyne Airways and is currently based at the all- cargo airline's Dubai hub in the UAE. 

London-headquartered Coyne Airways, which has been in business for more than 20 years, was founded by her father, Larry, and offers scheduled services to complex destinations, as well as offering charters to destinations worldwide. 

Liana helps oversee Coyne's operations throughout the Gulf and Central Asia, as well as the more difficult-to-reach destinations which the airline specialises in serving, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and various destinations in Africa. 

Liana graduated with a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Oxford University, and went on to become an English-qualified solicitor. 

She worked for international law firm Baker and McKenzie in both their London and Hong Kong offices for six years, during which time she co- authored a number of articles on legal subjects. In 2010, Liana decided to make the transition to join the family business and move to Dubai. 

She has a passion for learning languages which include Spanish, Russian, French, Italian and Japanese, and hopes to be able to converse in Arabic one day.