Women pilots called aviatrices have been flying power planes since 1908. In the 1950s and 1960s, women in the aviation sector held jobs like flight simulation trainers, air traffic controllers, and flight attendants. In the 1970s, the world aviation industry opened its doors to women pilots in commercial airlines and the military. In January 2021, an all-women cockpit crew of Air India created history. They flew the longest air route in the world from San Francisco to Bengaluru (17 hours). According to the Centre for Aviation today, 12% of Indian pilots are women. Here is the story of a brave young girl called Afshan Qureshi, from the Qureshi community who strived hard to get her wings.
Afshan Farookh Qureshi, at the age of 24, is the first woman pilot in India from the Qureshi community. This conservative Muslim community does not encourage women to work, let alone fly high. Pursuing higher education or seeking an unconventional career is unheard of among the Qureshis who are traditionally in the business of meat trading. It was Afshan’s grandmother who encouraged her from an early age to ride and drive. It not only interested her in the mechanics but sparked an interest to fly an airplane.
Afshan completed a degree in electronics and telecommunications in 2019. She was offered a job through campus placement, but her father Farookh dissuaded her then from accepting it. According to Afshan’s father Farookh, “No woman in my family had ever done a job. I thought people would say that I depend on my daughter’s money, and so I stopped her from joining the company.” Hardly a deterrent or disappointment to Afshan, she continued to set eyes on higher education. As she sat at home planning to do MTech, she read about air traffic control, saw umpteen videos and blogs uploaded by trainee pilots. That was when she found her calling to fly, and she finally voiced her career choice to her businessman father – “I told my father I wanted to be a pilot.” Her father caved-in to the request.
Taking flight is not easy. The young aspirant enrolled in an aviation school in Florida. At that time, every college and training center was affected by the coronavirus pandemic forcing it to close down. Luckily the flight training school in Florida continued to remain open. Afshan was able to complete over 250 hours of flight training. According to Afshan, “Everyone, except for me, at my flight training school in Florida, USA, had at least one person of his family in the aviation field. It was a challenge, both to test my physical and mental endurance and to overcome the handicap that my environment had thrown at me.”
In December 2020, Afshan was offered a flight trainer job by her training school in Florida, but she turned down the offer. She expressed, “I want to work in India and be with my people.” Afshan returned home to Bhayander, in Mumbai, with her 250 hours to earn a commercial pilot license.
She is now readying to take the qualifying exams in March for a commercial pilot license. Once the Directorate General of Civil Aviation issues her a commercial pilot license, we will have another female pilot. A young addition to the elite group of women pilots. Afshan now dreams of commanding a flight with her parents and grandmother onboard.
Afshan’s flight has set an example for the daughters in the Qureshi community to lay their eyes upon new avenues. She has been celebrated by her community and by different social groups. India, it is time to recognize the strength of your daughters.
From the Author – As I write this, I empathize with the pilots who are currently grounded. But the world has only temporarily paused; it has not ended. Things will change, and I believe change is always good. I am proud to be a woman. I am even more proud to share stories of other successful women. The young women of today are bravely opting for careers that were once dominated by men. Whether Saloni Gaur or Afshan Qureshi these are the women of today who have broken the mould to walk the less trodden path. Good Luck to women achievers!