Indian women in aviation

When Avanti Chaturvedi, the first Indian female fighter pilot to fly solo
Indian women in aviation

Ritika Das

(Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW), the University of Delhi. Mail:

When Avanti Chaturvedi, the first Indian female fighter pilot to fly solo while training in a MiG-21 Bison aircraft stated in an interview that a machine doesn't know who is controlling it and so it will react the same way whether it is operated by a man or a woman, it was a clear indication that no occupation can differentiate between a male and a female.

Avanti's statement rightfully adds up to the recent international statistics which states that of all the registered pilots in India, over 15% are women pilots, that is out of 17,726 registered pilots, 2,764 are women.

It is the highest percentage as compared to all other countries, outperforming even the USA and Australia. It is three times the international average of 5%. Out of the 15%, Air India became the leading airline to employ 12% of their pilots from the female sector.

Such encouraging statistics have their roots from years of determination and hard work exhibited by Indian women who have continuously proved their calibre and established the reality that along with triumphs in politics, entertainment or even sports, they are also extending their ladder of success high up to the sky.

It's no longer a man's job solely to operate aircraft or heavy cheetah helicopters and it's also no longer a man's sole responsibility of donning the fighter pilot uniforms. The womenfolk around the world, especially in India are constantly bursting the bubble of stereotypes and the age-old tradition of discrimination and oppression by excelling in all the jobs of the aviation industry.

The myth that the only job airline industries can provide to women is of an air hostess has long been busted because if a woman can efficiently serve you throughout your journey, they can as well fly you safely to your destination.

From 1936 when Sarla Thukral became the first Indian female pilot to get an aviation pilot license and flew Gypsy Moth solo to Swati Raval who became the first Indian female pilot on a rescue mission in 2020, evacuating 263 Indians from Covid ravaged Italy, the Aviatrices (female aviators) has only raised the bar when it came to serving their nation in all possible ways.

During the 1999 Kargil war, while our soldiers were exhibiting valour for their nation on the battlefield, it was Gunjan Saxena, one of the two women IAF officers along with Srividya Rajan who scripted history by carrying out rescue operations in difficult terrains of Kargil and bravely evacuated 900 troops, both injured and martyrs.

Other noteworthy achievements by women pilots over the years include Anny Divya who became the youngest women Boeing 777 pilot. She is also one of the Linked In global influencers along with other distinguished leaders around the world. The 26th January 2021 will be remembered as the first time a women fighter pilot, Bhavani Kanth, took part in a Republic Day parade. The Indian Navy too witnessed sub-lieutenant Shivangi as its first women pilot on 2nd December 2019.

Airport Authority of India (AAI) has also to its credit services of 507 women Air Traffic Controllers (ATC). Shyamli Halder became the first female head of ATC in Kolkata.

It was a proud as well as a glorifying moment for the entire nation when for the first time; a commercial flight of Air India, with all women-led crew flew over the North Pole in Jan 2021, from Bangalore to San Francisco. In fact, till March of 2019, India also had the maximum number of female commercial pilots as compared to other nations.

But, despite women achieving success in every sphere of life, we still have considerable numbers of cynics in our country who are hesitant to give due credit to women.

Even a state like Kerala which to its credit has a 100 per cent literacy rate and played a major role in gender equality by providing equal opportunities to women had its first female commercial pilot, Jeni Jerome only in the year 2021.

Even if women are allowed to work outside, numerous taboos restrict their area of freedom, hindering their flight to success. They are expected to work in only a few fields where their dignity and supposedly their 'societal shame' are not at stake.

Hence, the Indian government has from time to time tried to make sure that the ones who stepped into the profession of aviation get the best opportunity and exposure and also try to pursue the rest of the female population to take part in aviation fields through various policies and initiatives. For example, the Women Aviation International (WAI) India Chapter which is a non-profit organization, dedicated to the encouragement and advancement of women in all aviation career fields and interest has put forward various incentives like greater empowerment of flying instructors, digitalization of approval processes at the regulator DGCA and many others, all directed to increase the flying hours at the Flying Training Organizations (FTOs) which will eventually increase the number of Pilot Licenses issued annually.

All the efforts by the government as well as the success stories of many women can all culminate as inspiration for everyone who is yet to step up towards fulfilling their dreams. It is said that women are birds who have wings, but all they need is some support and a sky to fly. Constant support from their loved ones can make them cross all the hurdles and limits that come in between their goal. And for all the girls out there, the sky should not be their only limit in life.

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