In 1956, India’s first female commercial pilot took off, shattering the glass ceiling and paving the way for women to venture into the male-dominated field. Sixty years later, the Indian aviation industry is the largest employer of female pilots, growing 12.4%, compared to a global average of 5.4%. Creating more than 70 unique jobs, the industry has inspired women to unleash and realize their full potential.
On Girls in Aviation Day (September 25), four female aviators talk about their experiences taking the road less traveled.
Captain Zoya Agarwal
In May, Captain Zoya Agarwal and her all-female flight crew made history and flew the longest commercial flight from San Francisco to Bangalore. The first woman to fly a Boeing 777 in 2013, Captain Agarwal’s recent feat made her the first woman in the world to cross opposite poles.
She was eight years old when she dreamed of becoming a pilot. She loved stargazing and spent most of her time on the patio. She asked for a telescope instead of a Barbie doll. âI was fascinated by flying objects and wondered if I would be able to fly one of them,â she recalls.
Her mother wanted her to get married but she was not that conventional girl who would stop dreaming because of the opposition. âI knew I had chosen another path. It took a long time to convince my family but I was determined, âshe said, adding that her parents had taken out a loan to finance her studies and her aviation exams.
In 2004, Agarwal passed the Air India entrance exam and got one of 10 vacancies for pilots out of 3,000 places. She also led the Indian government’s Vande Bharat mission after the Covid epidemic which brought back more than 14,000 Indians stranded abroad.
Captain Jaswinder Kaur
Delhi-based Jaswinder Kaur lived near Chandigarh Airport as a child. The planes that flew over her house fascinated her. âAs I watched them from the ground and wanted to be with them, be one of them. I fulfilled my vocation when I was in college and told my parents and to my teachers that I wanted to be an airline pilot, âsays Captain Kaur, who had no one to guide her.
âMy father was a clerk at the local DM office. The most basic and obvious question that arises once you decide on this trip was how to become a pilot. It was an unknown road without a mentor or guide. It was like a journey into the unknown without Google maps, âshe recalls.
Being a pilot was still considered a man’s job. Although many girls dreamed of it, few pursued it. âIt’s not a comfortable choice for a middle class family. Convincing my parents was surprisingly easy, but there were apprehensions in the extended family, like spending a huge amount when it could be used for various other purposes, like getting married, âshe says.
âIt took more than merit to get to the right seat on an airliner,â she says.
For Captain Kaur, being a pilot is not a job but a passion. âEven after so many years, I am excited to see a plane. When I get into a cockpit, my enthusiasm is the same as that of my first flight, âshe says.
âYes, when I walk in my uniform I get a few extra looks, but most of the time it’s awe and pride,â she says, adding that there is no difference between a male and female pilot.
Captain Kiran Sangwan
Line training captain and safety pilot Kiran Sangwan always wanted to do something extraordinary. After her exams, she had only one idea in mind: “I want the excitement that pays me.”
Sangwan decided to become a pilot because she thinks it is unusual to pilot a metal tube. âIt was one of the best decisions of my life,â she says. âThe first challenge was to convince my parents. No one in my family is from the aviation industry. 15 years ago, it was not a conventional profession. Also, the irregular lifestyle and working hours were a concern for my parents, but they were very supportive of me. “
Taking on all roles at work, Sangwan didn’t feel like he was being denied an opportunity. His relationship with each co-pilot is followed by an SOP (Standard Operating Procedures). âIt doesn’t matter who occupies the captain’s seat or the co-pilot’s seat, everyone is aware of the other’s role in the cockpit. In the end, what matters is your confidence and your diligent work.
Senior Senior Officer Monica Mohani
Monica Mohani would ask her father to pull over on the freeway if she saw a plane, then waved him over. âEvery time we passed an airport, I was fascinated by the metal birds taking off and landing. I knew I wanted to be a pilot, âshe says. Mohani started when there were no pilot jobs in the market due to the recession. She worked hard to keep her dream alive. She worked as a cabin crew for two years despite a commercial pilot license, believing it would help her achieve her goal.
âThe day has finally arrived when I realized my dream of becoming a pilot,â she says, adding that her journey has been tumultuous and adventurous.
âI look back and feel privileged to have been able to fulfill my dreams. The support I have received is unprecedented and with a culture that thoroughly propagates the empowerment of women, I have had an enjoyable stint, âshe says.
When asked if she had encountered any prejudice as a woman, she replied, âI was treated fairly and equitably. I was given the same responsibilities as my male colleagues, âshe says.
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Posted on: Sunday, September 26, 2021, 7:00 a.m. IST