Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Meet the all-women crew: Air India's women pilots flying high, literally

New Delhi: Captain Trisha Mohan might be the only woman to fly the jumbo Boeing 747 aircraft, but she still finds it funny when the air traffic control calls her “ sir.”

“I find it amusing but it doesn’t stay on mind, at that moment it’s only the operations that matter,” says Captain Mohan who has been flying for 20 years with Air India.

Captain Mohan’s case points to the fact that aviation remains a very male dominated world even 100 years after the Wright brothers took their first flight. So much so that, that percentage of women employee in primary role in airlines remains at a mere 3 per cent.

On February 26, 16 crew members of Air India assembled at the dispatch unit of Delhi airport. It was a usual day except that the 16 women were embarking on a historic journey. Led by Captain Kshamta Bajpai and Captain Sunita Narula, the all-women team was going to fly to San Francisco a journey of 15,300 kilometres around the world-longest non-stop flight in the world.

“When we were walking towards the aircraft, I remember a mother pointing at us and telling her daughter to become like us,” said Captain Narula who has been flying for 30 years now.

The non-stop flight from to San Francisco travelled via the Pacific Ocean and returned via the Atlantic Ocean completing around trip of the world with 250 passengers on-board. With travelling time of 15 hours and ten minutes, the Boeing 777-200LR aircraft covered 15,300 kms from at a speed of more than 1000 kms per hour, crossing 13 time zones. On return, the aircraft covered nearly 14000 kms and took 15 and half hours, because of the wind pattern, on return the flight took more time.

“ When we touched down at Delhi airport, it was a sense of achievement despite doing long haul flights in the past. We were breaking stereotypes, probably giving dream to many kids,” says Captain Bajpai, who has in her 20 years of career with Air India flown both the types of commercial aircraft, Airbus and Boeing.
“There were 250 passengers on-board and all of them were ecstatic to know they were becoming part of such a historic event, as soon as the captain announced, everyone clapped,” says Bandukwala Nishin, lead cabin crew of the flight.
Air India had its first woman pilot back in 1956 when Captain Durba Banerjee was inducted as the first woman pilot in the erstwhile Indian Airlines. In 1990 Captain Nivedita Bhasin at 26 became the youngest pilot in civil aviation history to command a jet aircraft.

“Of course it was difficult, when I joined back in the, I was only the third woman pilot that the airline had, we didn’t even have separate toilets back then, I hope that such milestones attract more women to join aviation,” says Captain Bhasin.
According to the ladies, there is no discrimination based on gender but the greatest hurdle that remains is to convince a fellow male colleague of one’s potential. Captain Nirula remembers her initial years in the 1980. “I was a young lady in my 20s and all the line pilots were men in their 40s, they were very apprehensive about my abilities, it’s only after a few flights that everything became normal,” she says.
08/03/17 Arindam Majumder/Business Standard