Indian women pilots soar past global average
Saurabh Sinha, TNN | Nov 24, 2014, 04.19AM IST
According to DGCA, almost 600 of the 5,050 pilots in Indian airlines are women.
NEW DELHI: Ground realities may be harsh for women in India, but they’re still determined to conquer the skies.
Almost 600 of the 5,050 pilots in Indian airlines are women, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). At 11.6%, this is way above the 3% global average estimated by the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.
India is also seeing a steady rise in women pilots annually. The last five years saw 4,267 commercial pilots’ licences being issued, of which 628 or 14.7% went to women.
One of the reasons why women pilots fare better in India than in other countries is the strong family support system they have here. “Women who go on overseas flights have to spend days away from home. In India, women have their mothers or mothers-in-law to take care of the kids and that ensures they can go on long flights too,” says a woman pilot.
Women pilots and crew members in an Air India flight. (TOI file photo)
A direct outcome of this trend is that Indian carriers are employing more women pilots. The Jet Group, for instance, had 152 women pilots in October 2011; today it has 194 — the highest in India. “There has been steady growth of about 10% year on year in the number of women pilots joining the airline,” says a Jet official referring to Jet Airways and JetLite. The official adds that 30.5% of their 13,674 employees are women.
At IndiGo, 11% of pilots are women. “That number is definitely growing. Of the pilots that joined from April 2014, 16.5% are women,” says an IndiGo official.
Overall, 43% of the airline’s 8,200-strong workforce is women. SpiceJet and GoAir also reported that the number of women pilots is on the rise. The merged Air India-Indian Airlines has the second largest number of women pilots at 171, and often has an all-women crew operating its longest non-stop flights to the US.
A company source says they fall short of the highest number because they haven’t hired new pilots in a while.
DGCA data shows that even the crisis years of Indian aviation — 2010 to present — a higher percentage of women opted to train for commercial pilot licences. The number of licences issued in 2010 was 1,292 which fell to 858, 691 and 643 over the next three years. Even so, the percentage of women acquiring the licences from 2010 to 2013 went up from 14.8% to 16.4%.
Harpreet AD Singh, the first woman pilot to be selected by erstwhile Air India in 1988, says airlines saw a surge in women applying to fly in the mid-1980s and 2005 onwards, when private low-cost airlines took off.
The Jet Group has 194 women pilots — the highest in India. (TOI file photo)
“The erstwhile Indian Airlines was the first here to hire women pilots in the early 1980s. Captain Sadamani Deshmukh became the first woman commander then (of a Fokker Friendship) and this became a big thing that time,” says Singh. “Then in 1988, I was chosen by erstwhile AI as the first woman pilot.”
Singh, who is now an executive director with AI and president of Indian Women Pilot Association, claims that while the global average of woman pilots has always been 2-3%, India has been at over 10%. “We hope for a time when we no longer have to celebrate an all-women crew — engineer, cabin crew and pilots — on board. It should be a common occurrence,” says an IndiGo official.
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