The flying maiden
Deccan Chronicle| nandini d tripathy
The youngest woman pilot, Ayesha Aziz was besotted with the skies as a child.
Twenty-year-old Ayesha Aziz, along with being the youngest pilot in the country, is proof that unwavering focus and the will to succeed can get you anywhere you want to be. Certain of her career choice as early as primary school, she tells us that her fascination with airplanes seamlessly translated into a serious interest in aviation. "When I was a child, we would visit my hometown in Kashmir regularly and the journey would be what I would look forward to the most — more than the idea of going to Kashmir, the idea of flying there would excite me immensely every time! I loved the airplane, the airport, the uniforms of the pilots… everything. I was also always a travel junkie, taking every trip in school even if I was the youngest on it with no classmates coming along.
As I began to grow up, I found my interest in flying and travel unchanged. I was in the fifth or sixth grade when I knew that I wanted to be a pilot," she shares and adds that being as clear as she was about her future at that age is what enabled her to pave her own path towards her goal. "I was a very ambitious child. I had a vision in life at a very early age and that helped me become what I am today by keeping me goal-oriented. Had I not had that quality, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have. The idea is to lead your life instead of letting your life lead you," she affirms.
As a consequence of this attitude, by the time Ayesha completed her 10th grade, she was already done with the necessary research to determine which flying school she wanted to join. She recalls, "I was 15-years-old when I was enrolled in Bombay Flying Club. I would do five days of school and my weekend would be dedicated to flying. Once I completed my flying lessons, I cleared the exams and on that basis, in November 2011, I received my Student Pilot License." Today, she has completed 120 hours of flying and another 80 hours will get her the Commercial Pilot License that will make her eligible to fly commercial airlines. Flying being one of those professions that are still largely viewed as male domains, how has her experience as a young woman in a man’s world been so far?
"You know, one of the greatest ironies of my journey is that I was educated in a girls’ convent. Everyone told me that it would be very difficult for me to adjust in a co-ed setup. When I joined flying school, we were a class of eight and I was the only girl alongside seven senior, accomplished men. But I realised that if you really want to do something, these things are not what you should think about. If you’re driven enough, you will just focus on what you need to do and overcome whatever challenge comes your way. In this field especially, your performance is not conditioned by your gender because you’re flying a machine that doesn’t know whether you’re a man or a woman. You just have to focus entirely on honing your skills and being as good a pilot as you can be," she avers.
She does admit that there are things to be kept in mind if you’re a woman entering a predominantly male space, as a pilot or in any other profession. She says, "In any male-dominated setup, a woman does feel some kind of pressure. A man would never want to lose to a woman, for instance, and in situations like that gender does come into play. That’s why any woman just needs to make sure that she keeps herself updated about her field and keeps her confidence and morale up. The moment you lose confidence, you give people a chance to overwhelm you. There are notions you will have to stand up against too — like women drivers are believed to be naturally prone to screwing up, female pilots are sometimes believed to guarantee a turbulent flight. You have to stand up against such ideas by just being as good as you can be and making sure that your skills are unquestionable."
Ask her where she sees herself in the near future and she responds, "I see myself flying for a commercial airline as a first officer. And I also want to continue inspiring people — especially girls whose parents think that they should stay at home and not step out because they will never succeed in a male-dominated society. If I can do what I have been able to do, so can they."