She flies high with her wings of passion
Meet Saara Hameed Ahmed, all of 24 and flying commercial flights for the last 18 months! In her words, she is living the dream she dreamt for herself every moment of her life.
Often seen piloting a private airline’s Boeing 737 out of Bangalore to destinations such as Pune, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Kochi, Chennai, she was one among the 70 pilots recruited by the company from among 600 candidates holding commercial flying licence in 2010.
Saara had left for Florida (US) immediately after her PUC at Jyothi Nivas College in 2007 to join a pilot training school in Orlando. A year’s rigorous training which entailed logging 200 flying hours within the course period, yielded her a commercial pilot’s licence. But that was not all. Several hoops lay ahead on return to India. Supply was more than the demand and several were in the queue for fewer jobs. Conversion of the American licence to an Indian one required a waiting period. Even recruitment was not the end of the road to success. A month’s further training in Lithuania for learning the nitty-gritty of specific aircraft types preceded the start of her entry into the cockpit.
Saara says she loved heights from her childhood and had several sessions of training in climbing mountains, trekking, rappelling in Kanteerva Stadium before the choice of a career in flying got crystallized.
Her mother recalls that she was adventurous type from the very childhood and would not balk at doing what is normally expected of boys.
Some counselling. Some support.
But it was participation in a career counseling session by an Australian pilot in her college which actually lit the initial spark. From then on, there was no looking back. She began to see herself being a pilot from 2006 onwards. Her father’s friend, Atif Fareed, a pilot with the South West Airlines in the US, was a major support for her. He got her enrolled in Paris Air Inc. flying school in Vero Beach in Florida.
Religion no bar
She says, odds were formidable from the beginning itself. “I would think, wouldn’t the authorities at the US Consulate in Chennai think twice before issuing visa to a Muslim girl after 9/11? But by God’s grace, it took just five minutes for them to decide. No questions were asked and I was out with a visa in hand within five minutes. It was as if all the forces of Nature were propelling me forward towards my goal,” she muses.†
Child’s wings of dreams
While her mother remembers Saara asking her permission to join bungee jumping even while in high school, father Hameed says she had jumped from a balcony to a lower parapet at the age of three inviting reprimands. She would look at planes flying low in skies while approaching former HAL Airport while they stayed in a house in Madiwala during her childhood.
Fly, girl! Fly!
While admitting inhibitions mainly stemming from the way a girl child is brought up in Indian families, she says she never faced any prejudices on the basis of faith. As for the pilot training school in the US, she says gender did not make any difference there. “Of course, women comprised merely 20%, but the stress was on physical fitness, perceptivity and basic aptitude for learning,” she reveals.
Didn’t she ever feel she was risking her life for a career which has so far been dominated by males? Saara says, “Be it male or female, you have to be courageous to take up a career such as this. It demands tremendous self confidence and gender does not make women any less confident with the right kind of upbringing.”
On flying high, eternally.
Saara says all airlines make the atmosphere extremely safe for the women staffers with element of gender sensitivity forming part of the training. Intelligence and decisiveness play a very crucial role while commanding an aircraft.
Saara has so far put in 1,200 flying hours in 18 months and hopes to continue her career in the skies till retirement, regardless of circumstances.