RIYADH: Zara Rutherford, who is attempting to be the youngest woman to fly solo around the world, landed in King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on her lightweight Shark aircraft on Thursday.
“I am being 100 percent honest about Saudi Arabia in terms of its natural beauty. I don’t think I have seen anything like it. I am not used to the desert at all, and seeing Saudi Arabia has been really shocking and stunning for me,” Rutherford told Arab News.
“The people have been very kind; when I arrived here, I received a very nice and warm welcome,” she said.
The 19-year-old Anglo-Belgian pilot began her mission around the world because of her passion for aviation. Rutherford wants to encourage women in the aviation industry and inspire those around the world to leap towards their dreams no matter how impossible they may seem.
“I have always loved flying. I am very lucky that both of my parents are pilots, so I grew up around aviation. Flying around the world to me was just the biggest adventure and my biggest dream as well,” Rutherford said.
At first, she believed that her adventurous dream was completely impossible.
“I thought it was too expensive and too complicated, so I never really thought about it realistically, and then I was finishing high school and realized actually this is the perfect opportunity to do something crazy and fly around the world,” she said.
While all her friends were planning their first year at university, Rutherford gathered sponsorships and mapped her flight across the globe.
As a solo traveler, Rutherford said, it can get lonely when you don’t have anyone else sitting behind you in the plane to chat to, but it gives her a lot of time to think, enjoy the scenery and listen to her favorite podcasts.
On her journey to the Kingdom, she said, she traveled from Dubai up to Bahrain and cut across to Riyadh.
“It was great, that was a four and a half hour flight, and it was really easy and nice, then from Riyadh, I went directly to Tabuk,” she said.
“I have loved Saudi Arabia; it is a beautiful country, just flying over most of it today. It’s incredible how different deserts can be, seeing how the sand changes color going from dunes to rocks, it’s stunning, it’s very beautiful,” she said.
On her arrival at Riyadh Rutherford was welcomed by an event organized by the Saudi Aviation Club headed by HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), and the Riyadh Airports Company.
“I met his royal highness yesterday, and it was amazing. He is a pilot as well and is very interested in aviation, and he told me some of his stories of flying around Saudi Arabia and around the world,” she said.
“He is a lot more experienced than I am. It was really great being able to talk to another pilot, and he was very welcoming and very kind,” she said.
Upon her arrival to Riyadh, she was also greeted by the Ambassador of Belgium to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Her Excellency Mrs. Dominique Mineur.
“We were extremely proud to welcome the young Zara Rutherford to Riyadh during her trailblazing journey around the world,” the ambassador told Arab News.
She said that Rutherford had visited Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University to talk to female students.
“She had the opportunity to meet young female Saudi students from PNU and have an exchange with them about her incredible experience flying around the globe. She shared her passion for aviation, and we hope that this will stimulate the young generation more to develop their interests in STEM,” she said.
On her flight from Riyadh to Tabuk, Rutherford maintained altitudes of between 1,000-4,000ft above ground. She said that there was not much turbulence when she left after sunrise, and she maintained a low height to admire the scenery below. Later in the day, she had to increase her altitude to 4,000 due to the heat and turbulence to make sure the flight was smoother.
“I saw loads of different things flying to Tabuk; I saw camels. I haven’t really seen camels before, so this was really exciting for me,” she said.
Rutherford aims to inspire others to pursue their dreams regardless of how impossible or difficult it may seem.
“If you have a passion where you don’t quite fit the mould, for example, a woman who likes aviation, you stand out.
“In the beginning as a girl, that put me off of aviation because when you’re a girl, you don’t usually want to stand out; you want to fit in with your friends,” she said.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what other people think, it’s important that you do what you want to do and what makes you happy. Don’t let others dictate what you want to do with your life,” Rutherford said.
“With all of this press I have gotten, I can encourage more girls to get into aviation. Growing up, there were not many other girls or women pilots, and I thought it was a shame and it’s quite nice to have people you can look up to. I am hoping to change that,” she stated.
“Now I am home in just six days’ time, and that is a really strange feeling because I haven’t been home in five months, so six days is pretty close,” she said.
Rutherford aims to break two Guinness Book of World Records, for the youngest female solo pilot to travel around the world and the first Belgian to do so alone.