Shortly before the turn of the year, Eurowings launched two new direct flights - for the first time to Beirut in Lebanon and Erbil in northern Iraq. With these flights, Eurowings is expanding the segment of family and home visits, in which the airline already offers numerous connections to Greece, Croatia, Algeria and Turkey, for example. Eurowings will be flying to the Lebanese capital from three locations in Germany: Berlin, Düsseldorf and Stuttgart.
In the cockpit for the inaugural flight EW 8982 from BER to BEY on 19 December 2020: First Officer Malack Salman, who has been flying with Eurowings in an Airbus A320 since 2017. The 29-year-old pilot has Lebanese and German nationality and grew up bilingual. She is also an instructor in the training department at Eurowings and works as a flight instructor in the flight simulator for the Airbus A320 family. When the new destination Beirut appeared in the flight plan, it was a very special pleasure for her to be able to take over the first flight. With around 150 passengers on board, she took off from the German capital at noon and touched down in Beirut ahead of schedule after a good three and a half hours of flying time. The personal highlight for Malack Salman, however, was the fact that among the passengers was her father: for him, it was his very first flight with his daughter as a pilot - and beyond to the family's home country. The joint photo in the cockpit on the ground before take-off was, of course, a matter of honour.
Against the backdrop of this double premiere, we spoke to First Officer Malack Salman.
What was it like for you to operate the first Eurowings flight to BEY?
I was very proud that I was allowed to operate the first flight to the new Eurowings destination Beirut - it was simply a matter of the heart for me. As a passenger, I have flown to Beirut often enough and therefore felt very connected to the people on board. As a pilot, of course, it felt different - but just as beautiful! I was very proud and happy to fly our guests to their families and friends in their home country and mine - people who speak my second mother tongue.
You were able to welcome the passengers on the first flight in Arabic without any problems - how did they react?
Many people congratulated me for the first flight when they left the aircraft in Beirut and wished me all the best - they were positively surprised and also proud to have been flown by a female pilot of Lebanese origin.
The landing of a Lebanese pilot certainly didn't stay hidden in Beirut for long, did it?
Of course, word got around quickly.When I got in touch with the contacts on the ground after reaching the gate position, the surprise was enormous - they were absolutely amazed that a Lebanese female pilot had made the maiden flight for Eurowings. You have to know that there are very few Lebanese female pilots at all. It was only later that I saw that our plane had been filmed much earlier after landing: by the Lebanese plane-spotter community - nothing escapes them, they were totally crazy and excited! That was great, of course!
And the Lebanese media are also interested in you now, aren't they?
Yes, Lebanon is a small country - something like that doesn't go completely unnoticed. But I was also surprised at how quickly it went. Even before the first flight, the Lebanese news portal yasour.org contacted me. After that, it went viral very quickly: over 22,000 likes, that literally blew me away. All I can say is: aviation connects! After the flight back to Berlin, the state broadcasting station Télé Liban contacted me and asked for an interview. We then conducted the interview via video conference. The editors were particularly interested in what it is like to work as a woman in a profession that is still predominantly practised by male colleagues. Of course it was nice that I work for an airline that has a comparatively high proportion of women in the cockpit.
Your father was among the passengers - how did the father-daughter team feel?
To be honest, I felt a slight nervousness before the flight - after all, it was the very first time he had accompanied me on a flight - and then straight to Beirut! Many thoughts went through my head: hopefully it won't shake too much, hopefully we'll have good visibility on the approach to Lebanon and hopefully the landing will be as smooth as possible. I was very excited to see his reaction and was really looking forward to taking him with us. We took a picture together in the cockpit on the ground as a memento - it really captures that emotional moment. I was really touched by how much he enjoyed it - and I didn't know that my father could be so proud too (laughs).
Will you be scheduled for flights to Beirut again? Or have you had enough for now...?
No question at all - I have long since requested the destination again.