‘The opportunities are always there, but we need the right mind set for it’
- Talar Faiq
Talar Faiq is the first female director of Erbil International Airport, the first female airport director in Iraq and the only female airport boss across the whole of the Middle East.
Until 2005, there was no civilian airport or aviation in the Kurdistan region, and Talar’s success has won her multiple awards. In 2011 she received an award as Best Woman in Aviation, and has since been very successful. In an exclusive interview with the Kurdish Globe, she spoke about her aspirations for the future of Kurdistan in aviation, and thoughts on how women can be successful in the working sector.
Erbil International Airport works with more than 21 carriers serving 23 cities in 15 different countries. In 2011, saw 620,000 passengers use the airport, a 43% increase on 2010, that growth continued in 2012, with 947,000 passengers, a jump of 53% on the 2011 total, making Erbil International one of the fastest growing airports in the Middle East, if not the world, in percentage terms at least.
Talar Faiq says she hopes their airport will be able to compete with leading airports internationally by offering excellent services and facilities. Although the airport is small compared to other airports in the Middle East, it nonetheless provides excellent service to passengers.
Some of us look in each sector in a gender-based way, we look at whether it is male dominated or if the environment is friendly to women. Talar feels this is not the right way to approach work, she said “I don’t see my work through my gender. I don’t come to work thinking this is a male dominated field. I come to work, and I focus on my job.”
She went on to explain how women in general should not feel threatened in work if there are more men, but should liber- ate their minds from a defeatist mentality and give their job all their energy because you can’t change patriarchal societies by making special rules for women so that they “fit in”. Instead the general rules must be accepted and through that people can work towards creating a gender neutral environment.
There are more avenues opening for women in Kurdistan, but unfortunately women are still not making it to top CEO positions easily. One of the reasons, explains Talar, is the women have, and, this applies to men too, they simply have different priorities and she added, the challenge of women getting to the top is a worldwide issue, and not peculiar to Kurdistan. Talar is an example of a hard-working Kurdish woman, with more than 13 years of experience in the United Nations, and a Bachelors degree at Al Munsiriyah University. She believes women should take advantage of the many opportunities available to them. In the 90s she said, “Women had very few opportunities, some parents did not encourage their daughters in careers beyond teaching and other traditional areas for example. There was a greater sense of dependency on them, but now in a globalized and progressive Kurdistan, we are seeing this change’ because middle class families can no longer survive with one breadwinner. More importantly, women are more vocal about their rights and no longer accept being ‘housewives’ or stay at home women, especially since the majority of Kurdish women are highly educated.»
Education is key to being successful and having avenues open, but Talar Faiq cautions against the idea that through education alone people will access high paying, and managerial positions. She said, “If women or men want to be successful, they need edu- cation, experience and a commitment to self-development. We need young people to gain experience while they study, and not have four or so years of academic disciplinary studying without any experience. They will find it harder to find jobs if they rely on their qualification alone.”
Erbil International Airport has been very careful in respecting Baghdad’s rules because the Kurdistan Region still does not have its own airspace, and consequently unable to make key decisions. Talar Faiq believes that the airport should operate to international standards, and that includes following the rules and regulations of the national regulator for aviation. The ICAA is recognized as the rule maker for aviation in Iraq and we must respect that and work with it otherwise there would be chaos and safety risks which we certainly do not want. That said it is somethimes a challenge though to combine international best practice, with aviation regulations dating back to 1974, and with KRG regulations and procedures. We follow three different regulatory regimes, Iraq’s, the KRG’s and international best practice.” Talar explained.
EIA has a comical side to all its glamour and misfortunes too. Talar Faiq laughed and said “It is exciting to be able to offer some people the opportunity to be on a plane for the first time in their life, but with that comes problems at times. For instance, one passenger, clearly travelling by air for the first time, was waiting to pick up their luggage and having found only one case , they jumped on the carousel whilst it was moving to try and find the second case. So they found themselves going around and around, much to the amusement of fellow passengers.” She explained how hilarious the scene was, and that people tend to do funny things at the airport such as the family who bought their own kettle to make their own tea whilst waiting for a flight.
Running an airport is a huge responsibility, and Talar said that it often takes time away from her family. At times she finds herself coming to the airport at 3 AM in the morning to check on operations, or sometimes she leaves the office late because of unexpected events and complications to be found at any international airport. However, despite all the troubles and late hours, she says her job is fulfilling and she does it with great pride knowing that it services both the Kurdish people and Kurdistan.
There are many employment opportunities at EIA. Talar says she welcomes prospective employees and encourages them to apply since there are many sectors within EIA with vacancies. It is an EIA priority to build up a team of skilled and talented people committed to being professional and able to serve the KRG in a variety of roles. She said EIA looks at skill, talent and then educational background emphasizing that skill is very important. The success of EIA is due to talented young men and women working as a team to run the airport, like a close knitted family. She explained that they are always looking out for prospective graduates with sufficient experience, “We often send out our team that deals with employment to look for fresh graduates that have experience, or give potential employees training in their respective field. We have built links with the universities, to make sure we recruit those most talented to join us and that the opportunities are frequent, but we need the right mindset for it, and the right skills, this is an international airport and having reasonable English is a must to deal with different aspects of airport work, including contact with passengers. “