Up in the air, Indian women are increasingly in charge. For a country that can't ensure a woman's safety or her basic rights on the ground, the recruitment record of India's Airlines presents a contrast. As a result, the next time you take a flight in India, the chances of the Pilot being a woman are much higher than anywhere else in the world.
India currently has 5,100 Pilots, of which 600, or 11.7%, are women, according to Ministry of Civil Aviation Data. There
are a total 130,000 Pilots in the world, of which 4,000, or about 3%, are women, according to the International Society of
Women Airline Pilots.
"This is definitely one trend which flies in the face of global opinion of India as a regressive place for women," said Captain Harpreet Singh Dey, President of the Indian Women Pilots' Association. She's also the first female Pilot to operate an International Flight by a local carrier, Air India, in 1988.
Families are willing to back girls who want to pursue the profession even regardless of whether they're married or not, she said.
"Flying schools are churning out a higher number of Women Pilots every year.There are many families who are supportive of a woman's career choice as a Pilot even after marriage. There are also many women who would happily remain single to follow their passion," Capt Dey said. Of the 1,100 Pilot licences issued in India in 2014, about 170 were to women, an increase of 5% from the year earlier.
The number of Female Pilots in SpiceJet is 15% of the total, said chief operating officer Sanjiv Kapoor, up from 11-12%
two years ago. "It is a gradual growth. I think it mirrors the increasing numbers of women in the professional workforce
as old ways of thinking change," he said. "Parents are also likely more supportive, employers are more gender neutral."
Jet Airways has a pilot force that's 14% women, compared with 12.5% two years ago, said a spokesperson. Between January
2013 and May 2015, 42 Female Pilots joined the Airline, around 15% of the total Pilot intake in that period.
At IndiGo Airlines, 168, or 11% of its 1,448 Pilots, are women. According to a media report last year, British Airways has about 3,500 pilots, of which 200, or 5%, are women. Opportunities for women in the Indian Airline Industry, once restricted to cabin crew and ground staff, have expanded in only the last few years.
Captain Durba Banerjee, India's First Woman Commercial Pilot in 1956, captained a Fokker F27 Friendship in 1966. But the next time
a woman became Captain was two decades later, when Saudamini Deshmukh became the first to command a Boeing 737. Later, she
also became Airbus A320 commander.