Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Meet Captain Zoya Agarwal who went from being an avid stargazer to making history as a pilot

Air India commander Zoya Aggarwal and her all-woman cockpit crew recently scripted history by operating the world’s longest commercial flight that crossed the North Pole at 34,000 feet in the sky. With 250 passengers on board, the crew of four women captains in the cockpit had the world tracking their every movement in the sky. Every person Zoya knew was tracking the flight since its take-off in San Francisco until it landed in Bengaluru where the team was greeted by members of the press and others – all huddled and armed with cameras to capture the moment. “The buzz hasn’t died down yet and it is best that such a celebratory atmosphere remains for as long as it can amidst the pandemic,” Zoya says, over a phone call with HerStory. Flying the world’s longest direct flight came with a long checklist to tick off – from ensuring the equipment is in place to polar suits for any diversion in faraway airplanes, training the crew, and hoping the weather would be aligned with the mission.  While it may have been a tedious preparation for the past year-and-a-half, for Zoya the dream of becoming a pilot started early on, when she was just eight.  

Zoya was fond of stargazing and spent most of her time on the terrace of her house. As a child, she did not fancy toys or watching television but when she wanted a telescope, eight-year-old Zoya asked her parents to save up for it by doing away with birthday parties for a couple of years. 

After she got the telescope, her parents would worry that she was not like the other children in the neighborhood.

“I used to just look at the sky, stargazing and spot the jumbo jets flying all over the place. I used to be very fascinated by the little flying objects and would be glued to their condensation trails and wonder if I will be able to fly one of them,” she recalls.

As the only child in a middle-class family with a conservative mindset in the 90s, when Zoya expressed her desire of becoming a pilot, her mother started to cry.  

“My mother always wanted me to get married, have children, and look after the family and that's where the buck stopped. However, I was not one of those conventional girls or one to stop dreaming because the society around me told me not to do so,” she says. 

02/02/21  Tenzin Norzom/YourStory

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