Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, has flown His Holiness Pope Francis home after a historic three-day visit to the capital Abu Dhabi. The trip, heralded as a triumph in inter-faith dialogue and a celebration of peace, made world history as the first ever visit of a pontiff to the Gulf region.
Leaving on an Etihad Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Pope leaves behind a legacy of tolerance and peace. During his visit, the pontiff joined Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders for the Human Fraternity conference, a meeting of some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders with the aim of charting a path for global peace.
In recognition of the UAE’s Year of Tolerance, the visit reaffirms Abu Dhabi’s position as a multi-cultural, multi-faith global capital. Etihad Aviation Group, one of the city’s leading employers, echoes this diversity with more than 150 nationalities represented across its 23,000-strong workforce. The Pope’s visit is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the diversity and spirit of co-operation witnessed throughout the company.
The crew who flew the Pope home were comprised of 15 different nationalities, representing the cultural diversity at the heart of the Etihad Aviation Group.
Captain Abdulla Obaid, an Emirati pilot with more than 20 years of flying experience led the flight crew. He said: “I am very proud and thankful to have flown His Holiness Pope Francis to Rome and to be the first Emirati pilot ever to fly the Pope. Our country’s leadership are directing us in the way of tolerance and making this country a peaceful country where people of all cultures can come together.”
Captain Christoph Schippel from Germany joined Captain Abdulla on the flight deck, bringing more than 30 years of flying experience to the operation.
In addition, Captain Paolo La Cava, Director of Etihad Aviation Training, the group’s acclaimed training division has been instrumental in the operation and planning of this important flight. Captain Paolo said: “I am very privileged to have been part of the crew flying His Holiness Pope Francis back home to Italy. I am lucky enough to have flown Pope Francis a number of times in my aviation career and it is a great honour to have done this again for Etihad. It was amazing to have Pope Francis here in the UAE and Etihad Airways is a good representation of this country’s tolerance and diversity.”
The flight crew completed an extensive preparation process for the special flight, including several operational planning meetings and team briefing sessions as well as bespoke simulator training sessions.
The aircraft door was specially adorned with the Vatican’s emblem and special headrests, emblazoned with the Vatican insignia were installed on the aircraft in preparation for the flight.
During his visit, the pontiff performed mass for a congregation of approximately 130,000 people at Zayed Sports City stadium. The service was broadcast live across the inflight entertainment systems of Etihad’s fleet as the aircraft transported guests across the globe on Tuesday. The airline’s lounges also broadcast the Pope’s historical ceremony.