Aviation, like engineering and medicine, has been a male-dominated industry with not only stereotypes and biases narrowing the narratives around women’s potential but also limiting the kind of opportunity that would have come their way. Tracing the decades of centuries, there has been a constant battle for women to pursue their passion.
The first female pilots that we could date back to are the female pioneers who first began their aviation journey in the 20th century. Amelia Earhart, Bessie and Coleman defied societal norms at that time when the situation had been most challenging for women.
Despite facing rigid societal norms, they paved the way to make their dream true. The moment then, as trailblazers became a mass positive setback for many generations of women to believe in their dreams small, or big. The number of pilots increased significantly after World War II when female pilots were finally accepted.
Back in the 1990s, the Indian Air Force at first, began recruiting women for helicopters and transport aircraft, the cutting edge for aspiring women. It is this history at a glance to get inspired from and to appreciate the Indian contemporary female pilots, from time to time.
1. Meghna Arora
Meghna Arora is a captain of Boeing 777 who lives in Doha. The idea of being a pilot came from her grandfather and father who, at one point both were fighter pilots. Hearing their sky stories, she started to fantasise about the possibilities of the sky. Aiming at becoming a pilot was the first and the last decision as there were no other plans, other than that.
While a student at 14, she often juggled over the subjects because, her father had told her that being a commercial pilot was going to be difficult, however, determined by heart, she got a license in just two years when usually, people get in three years.
Just within 14 months of hard work and training, she graduated with a license right after high school. She writes, “Some parents won’t push their daughters to explore & practice courage. but that’s how you find the discipline within yourself that will allow you to excel. my parents gave me that: the realization that I have complete, unending responsibility for making my own dreams come true.” Truly, it shows her devotion to aircraft and flying high.
2. Anjana Singh
Anjana Singh is the captain at Indigo Airlines. She trained at the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA). Just after four months of training, she was able to pass a license exam. A versatile woman who is a pilot and a fitness enthusiast. A traveller by heart, she loves adventures, like paragliding and skiing and has experimented with lots of things.
Her stories posted on social media are a reflection of her travelling experience not only in India but around the world. Her reason for flying was as she says, “Just the sheer thrill of flying and I went ahead with the course.”
3. Rashmi Sharma Phogat
Rashmi Sharma Phogat is not just a pilot, she is a mother and a writer. Her Instagram is full of pictures from the beach and the workplace. She frequently posts about her kid. She is very active on social media and shares reels, and videos and makes efforts to motivate people through her stories. She also answers people’s queries about aviation.
As a part of her profession, she has been able to travel all over the world. However, this comfort that she has today comes with a lot of challenges. Reflecting on the experiences she had when she was pregnant, she mentions she had to go on maternity leave. This sets a lagging barrier to them in their career because one has to go for another eight-session-long training again before operating an aircraft.
However, she is happy that now the time has been shifting she said, “The aviation industry is a gender-neutral world.”
4. Jaswinder Kaur
A child, who had never seen a pilot or a plane too close, becomes a pilot against all the stereotypes and doubters of her time. Jaswinder says:
“I used to write ‘I want to fly in the sky’ in my school notebooks,” a dream which has come true. Raised in a strictly tight-knit family protocol around looks and appearances, revolted against her desires and in the end, she’s the happiest.
Jaswinder, remembers when she was 16 years old, how a family friend from the Indian Air Force suggested she become an IAF pilot rather than a commercial pilot as that was more on trend and would ensure a stable career. Because at that time, few women flew combat, just transport. Her parents were supportive and as she was determined, she became a commercial pilot who now flies in between the thick mystical clouds.
5. Ritu Rathee Taneja
The Airbus A320 captain is Ritu Rathee Taneja. She was born and brought up in a middle-class Haryanvi family. She had a dream of being a pilot when she was a child. But she struggled a lot to come out of the stereotypes. She was brought up in an environment where her relatives thought she would get married before even she completed her education but her parents always supported her.
She studied seven hours a day to get a job and never took a break. Just after that, she got an offer to join as a co-pilot from an established airline in India which became a life-changing moment for her. A perfect person determined by passion, she inspires many girls to dream.