Air India lady commanders and cabin crew members recall their experience of being on board the national carrier’s all-woman flights to celebrate International Women’s Day 2017
Air India has always believed in the power of its women employees, a reflection of which can be seen in the sheer number of women occupying distinguished posts – forming almost 11 per cent of the airline’s workforce. It is Air India’s mission to make its women employees self-reliant, and this has led it to celebrate International Women’s Day by operating as many as 40 domestic and international flights with all-woman crews between February and March, 2017 to show the world how its ladies can rule the skies.
The Delhi-San Francisco-Delhi flight, the longest in aviation history, deserves special mention for having been operated and executed by a team of highly qualified and trained women professionals.
Some of the other flights that were completely woman-operated flew from Delhi to Patna, Hyderabad, London, Allahabad, Jaipur, Vienna, Kathmandu and from Kolkata to Singapore. Air India celebrated this feat with a felicitation ceremony, where the efforts and capabilities of these ladies were recognised and rewarded.
Air India, with its new initiatives and ideas, never ceases to surprise. The latest addition to its corporate social responsibility roster was a unique idea of giving a few women employed with the airline, a chance to board an aircraft for the first time in their lives. These were women who have never flown before, despite working in close proximity to aircraft every day. This special Joyride flight, which took off on March 8, marking the occasion of International Women’s Day, was Air India’s attempt to let these ladies know how much their contribution is valued.
On the day of the flight, there were over 50 Air India employees gathered at the airline’s counter at the Delhi airport, along with women media representatives and officials from the airline. Anita Gupta, from Engineering, could not contain her excitement as she said, “I cannot express my feelings. I am elated. No employer would do such a thing for its employees, leave alone a woman employee.” Preeti Baswan, who is an Air India employee working at the Safdarjung Airport, added, “I have been up since the crack of dawn and was afraid that I would miss the flight. I can’t wait to go home and tell my kids about it!” Not just that, the airline extended the invite to other Indian airlines as well and Neha Virmani from the Human Resources department of Vistara airlines, did not miss the opportunity. After the flight returned to Delhi she said, “We had a really great experience. We are here to support Air India on this unique flight that it has arranged. We are proud of the airline for coming up with such a concept. It was heartening to see these women, who have never flown before, so happy and excited.”
Speaking about the Joyride, Ashwani Lohani, CMD, Air India, said, “This initiative is being taken so that women who have been working in the sector for many years but have never flown before also get a chance to fly.”
Woman Of Steel
With many ‘firsts’ to her credit, Harpreet A De Singh stands tall as an example of perseverance
They say what doesn’t break you only makes you stronger. Harpreet A De Singh obtained her commercial pilot’s licence from IGRUA in 1988. And although she could not continue flying due to a medical reason, it did not deter her from pursuing her passion. She became one of the first ground instructors for pilots in the Indian aviation industry, besides being the first Human Factors and CRM facilitator.
The vivacious officer is currently working as an executive director Flight Safety, besides heading the Corporate Safety and the Quality and Environment Management System (QMS) department in Air India. “My journey with the airline has been wonderful. I have not only evolved personally and professionally, but also spiritually and creatively,” says Singh, who is also the first woman to break the traditional all-male bastion and head the vital Emergency Response division in an airline. Of all the experiences she has had during her career, her most prized memory is that of receiving the approval to train pilots “at a time when there were no women instructors in the country”.
Singh affirms that she owes her success and achievements to Air India and her family. “I feel grateful to the top management at Air India for having mentored me. The airline has been very supportive of my decisions and has also given me the opportunity to grow,” says the graceful lady.
Serve With a Smile
Meenakshi Dua talks about the aviation industry and what it takes to make a positive change
Meenakshi Dua’s corporate journey began in 1981 with Escorts and Eicher. She gave wings to her dreams by joining Air India in 1987. With over three decades of Human Resources experience, she became the first woman regional director (RD) of Southern Region.
Among the women executive directors (ED), she is the only one who is on the board of one of Air India’s subsidiaries. She says, “For me, life is an opportunity to serve and make a positive difference in others’ lives. Happiness is a natural by-product.”
She draws inspiration from people and events around her and has constantly worked on evolving. “I feel there is no glass ceiling for women who believe in themselves and are passionate about their work,” she says.
She adds that a supportive environment at home and work gives her the much-needed confidence to move forward. For her, “challenging challenges add to the challenge”.
Sunita Marwah, head of the IT department of Air India, looks back at her journey with the airline
Sunita Marwah stepped into the aviation industry in 1983 as a trainee programmer at Air India. After 30 years in the industry, she affirms that the airline has given her a platform to grow both professionally and personally. The Indian aviation industry, according to her, gives fair opportunities to women by employing them in highly technical areas such as aircraft maintenance, flying, managing IT functions and core business functions.
In fact, Marwah derives her inspiration from a few seniors who had come out of their comfort zone, accepted every challenge and were successful in managing completely different departments.
Thankful for having been given quite a few opportunities to prove her mettle during her career, she shares, “I was part of the team that developed the first indigenous Real Time IT System OASIS [Online Aircraft Spares Information System] in 1989-90. I was also the regional IT head during 1996-1998 and a project manager for AI’s joining the prestigious Star Alliance in 2013-14. I have been heading the IT department since 2014,” she says.
Power At Hand
Amrita Sharan’s journey with Air India stands testimony to the power of focus and dedication
Amrita Sharan joined Air India in 1990 as a personnel officer and has, over the years, worked in all areas of the Personnel department. She was directly involved in the negotiation and settlement of wages and PLI agreements with the unions and associations. Currently working as ED, Integration, she has successfully completed all the tasks handed to her. Looking back, she affirms that she is extremely grateful for the training she received from her mentors. “I was coached by the best in the field and also had supportive colleagues. I have been exposed to all aspects of the job and now, I have taken up the role of integration of HR and other issues of merger,” she says.
Sharan feels that India’s aviation industry is extremely encouraging of its women members. “The Indian airline industry actively seeks to broaden employment opportunities for women,” she points out, referring to the special flights Air India arranges every year on the occasion of International Women’s Day, operated by all-woman crews and supported by all-woman teams.
Leading The Way
For Aruna Gopalakrishnan, executive director, Corporate Affairs, work is worship
Aruna Gopalakrishnan joined Air India in 1990 and has worked in all areas of personnel, across all regions, through the years, including CTE Hyderabad, and handled IFS and AASL along with her assigned duties in Personnel in NR. “Air India provides equal opportunities to both men and women employees. The fact that six women hold the top positions at Air India stands testimony to this,” she says. Gopalakrishnan is a self-motivated woman, and says that she owes her success to the support she has received from her family. “My family let me be, and never tried to change me,” says the ED, for whom every day is a learning experience. “I am open to accepting any challenge that comes my way,” adds the lady.
Living by the philosophy that there are no short-cuts to success, she stands tall as an example of perseverance leading to success in the airline. “For me, it is always the employee first,” she adds, saying that employees should be priority in any organisation.
A Long Run
Seema Srivastava on her professional growth with Air India
Seema Srivastava has been associated with the Indian aviation industry since 1983. Having started her career with Air India, she has a vast experience of working in various areas of the airline. “I have seen the aviation sector undergo a sea change – from the times of monopoly to a highly competitive environment, and from manual working to a highly automated system,” she points out.
Currently holding the post of an executive director, responsible for strategising and planning of the airline, she believes in being positive in life and “looking for a silver lining behind every cloud”. “It is essential to look at the good side of everything and recognise the strengths of others,” adds Srivastava, who is also the chairperson of the Country Steering Council of Star Alliance in India.
According to her, the goal in life should be to enhance all aspects of life – social life as well as relationships. “This should be a motto for all young people, irrespective of gender,” she adds.
Queen Of The Skies
Trisha Mohan, the only lady commander of the Jumbo aircraft, B747, on what it feels like to be in the cockpit
For Air India pilot Trisha Mohan, flying is in her blood. She grew up watching her father fly with the Air Force and she knew that one day she, too, would fly. And her eyes were set on the queen of the skies – the B747-400 – a dream that came true in 2013, when she underwent her Conversion Training and received her command on the B747-400. It made her the first and only lady commander of the Jumbo aircraft. She says, “Every time I fly the Jumbo it becomes an exhilarating experience because it is the queen of the skies – majestic and graceful. The four-engine, double decker majestic beauty, with a maximum takeoff weight of 377,842 tonne, is the safest, most reliable aircraft chosen for India’s premier leadership. I feel privileged to be sitting in its cockpit.”
Mohan trained at the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi and joined Air India in 1994. “Initially I flew the A310 and B744 as first officer and my first command was on the A310 in 2007,” she recalls.
Wave Of Change
Dipti Varshney, DGM, Technical Services, on the changes she has seen in aviation over the years
A deputy general manager in Technical Services in the Engineering department of Air India, Dipti Varshney has been associated with various projects over the years – from the initial inhouse development of components tracking and control programme in 1985 to the new upcoming advanced projects like In-Flight Entertainment streaming through Wi-Fi on to pax electronic devices. Being part of the national carrier makes her proud and she recalls her experience of working with the airline to be challenging yet satisfying and rewarding.
She feels that the aviation industry has a lot to offer and young dreams can be brought closer to reality with proper guidance. “Sky is the limit. Hard work, honesty, confidence, a sense of fearlessness and faith in oneself are all that one needs to be successful,” says the lady who has made significant and important contributions in various divisions of engineering – Quality Control, Reliability, Engg Documentation, Technical Publications and Avionics Group in Technical Services.
Mini Mathew Rojy, senior AGM on her journey of success with Air India
Mini Mathew Rojy joined Air India as a graduate engineer trainee in 1987, a time when the field was male-dominated. “Women in aviation was a concept unheard of, so initially I had to prove myself at every step of the way,” recalls Rojy, who is the first direct recruit woman engineer of the airline. She went on to receive the Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) licence in 1991 and in the following year, became the first woman to obtain an AME licence on the Airbus A300 aircraft.
Her most cherished memory with Air India is from 2007, when she was sent to EADS (an Airbus subsidiary) facilities in Toulouse, France for training on the ATEC 6000, a state-of-the-art advanced universal tester for aircraft computers, as part of a four-member team. On its return, the team set up the ATEC shop in India with all the required approvals from DGCA. Recalling her experience, she says, “The project we are involved in at the ATEC shop is one of the most advanced technology testers we have today. Mine is a tough job but it gives me satisfaction.”