Imaginary Life

Challenging the aviation industry in India, one woman at a time.

How many percent of pilots are women? 3 percent? 5 percent or 11 percent? You might be surprised to find out that the country with the highest percentage of female pilots is India, with 11 percent, compared the global percentage of 3 percent and 5 percent in the United States.

Two WAI India trainees at Girls in Aviation Day celebration celebrated at the Delhi Flying Club, September, 2017.

Two WAI India trainees at Girls in Aviation Day celebration celebrated at the Delhi Flying Club, September, 2017.

“The gender imbalance in aviation is global!” says Noopurr R. Chablani, Secretary of the Indian Chapter of the NGO Women in Aviation International (WAI). She continues: “Girls in India have been encouraged to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics) for quite some time already, so there are a lot of high school girls with high career ambitions.”

Bhatia has years of experience in travel, tourism and hospitality and wanted to give young women more career opportunities – not only as pilots or cabin crew, but also as all types of engineers, technicians, designers, strategists, air traffic controllers, operations managers, and flight care specialists, to name but a few professions in the field.

     Radha Bhatia, the driving force behind Women in Aviation International, India.

Radha Bhatia, the driving force behind Women in Aviation International, India.

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Noopurr R. Chablani, dedicated to gender equality in aviation.

Bhatia herself is no stranger to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). She started the Bird Academy in 1988, as an educational arm of the Bird Group. Bird Academy offers diploma and certificate courses in travel and tourism, airfares and ticketing, passenger and baggage handling, air safety and emergency handling, dangerous goods regulations, as well as consultant and foundation courses certified by IATA, a trade association of world airlines. The courses range from about a month to a year in duration and Bird Academy trains roughly 3,000 students every year, guiding them from high school to finding employment across the country.

Sai Deepthi Patro

Sai Deepthi Patro, 15-year-old from Visakhapatnam, India, says: “Today I visited the entire airport and even got an opportunity to see what an Air Traffic Control tower looks like. I become an engineer. I will definitely try for a job in aviation.” (December 14th, 2017).

Bhatia adds: “We also need to involve the girls’ families so the girls all have an advocate at home. There are still a lot of preconceived ideas about what it means for a woman to work at an airport or as an air flight attendant. Also, specialized education is long and it can take years before the girls earning a living.”

There is indeed, a lot of work to do. The global aviation industry needs to update its practices to actively promote gender equality. In India, Bhatia and Chablani are challenging the status quo and inspiring others to do the same.

Video: The inauguration of Aviation Multi-Skill Development Centre, located at the old airport in Chandigarh, 27th February 2018. The Centre will train 2360 candidates in 8 Job Roles, over a 3 year period, with the CSR contributions from the Airports Authority of India to the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDF), and with active support from the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The centre will be affiliated with the Aerospace & Aviation Sector Skill Council (AASSC) who have helped develop the content of the program, with Bird academy as the Training Partner.

Captain Nivedita awards a WAI student with a pilot cap.

Captain Nivedita awards a WAI student with a pilot cap.

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Meetings at airports: Ingrid & SOS Barn

I was on transit from Copenhagen to Stockholm. We shuffled towards the gate, slowly forming a queue. There was a friendly-looking couple in front of me, and we quickly started chatting. They were still absorbing all the many impressions and experiences that come from long-distance travel, from their trip to Sri Lanka. I was on my way back from India. We were longing to get home, but we also had mixed feelings about leaving.

That’s how I met Ingrid and her husband.

You can get to learn a lot about people in a short conversation. And those at the gates of random airports always seem to be especially economical in that way, especially poignant and memorable.

Ingrid told me that she is a 59-year-old mother of 4 children. A grandmother. She spent her whole life bringing up her children and working full-time. She loves everything do with nature. She had a pony once, and enjoyed taking care of her pony a lot.

Tommy had worked abroad before he met Ingrid, and had lived in Sri Lanka for a year. He got to know about the charity SOS Barn when he was there, and the great work they do at their children’s villages all over the world.

When Ingrid started to talk about SOS Barn, her eyes welled up.

“I’ve never donated to any other organization before I met Tommy. But he had seen with his own eyes how well the organisation works. I only send 250 SEK per child per month, and that makes such a difference. 250 SEK- for us it’s nothing really. I wish more people would donate,” she said.

“I just want every child to have the same start in life. Every child should have food, and clothes and go to school. Every child should be loved,” Ingrid explained.

When Ingrid’s youngest child finally moved away from home, Ingrid decided to sponsor another child. The children are orphans or have parents who can’t take care them.
Ingrid and Tommy decided to see the children’s village where the two children she was sponsoring live.

“Everything there was beyond my expectations. We spent about 2 hours at each school. It was wonderful. The children were happy and so curious about us. They tried to speak English with us. We met the two kids we sponsored, and they were so proud to have visitors from abroad.”

Each SOS village is made up of small houses where about 8-10 children live. Every house has a housewife who takes care of the children and everything in the house. For 250 SEK a month, a child gets to have a home and an education.

“The trip affected me a lot. I want to sponsor a third child now. SOS Barn has recently opened a new orphanage in northern Sri Lanka. An area that was very hard hit during the civil war that only ended in 2010,” she explained.

The conversation at the gate left an impression on me too.

And her parting words: “I want to tell everyone that just a small contribution every month can do wonders for a child.”