All-woman crew operates Air India flight to New York

Last Updated 08 March 2010, 19:39 IST

There was palpable excitement in the air, as the 14-hour flight with a 19-member crew on board left on schedule at 0130 am from Mumbai. Captain Miranda along with Captain Sunita Narula were given the command of the Boeing 777-200 long-range aircraft which will fly through 10 time zones. Captain Swati Rawal and Captain Neha Kulkarni will be the first officers.

"We will have the company of several beautiful women," a passenger chuckled. There were 174 passengers on board. Air India operated another international flight on the Chennai-Colombo sector and several domestic flights with all-women crew.  Captain M Deepa and co-pilot Sonia Jain were in the cockpit on the Colombo flight.

"We can reach great heights. We all should be encouraged," said Miranda, shortly before the New York flight took off. Sunita said, "the step will go a long way in the empowerment of women in this country."

"I am very excited. Though I have piloted a long-haul flight more than a dozen times, but with a set of either two male pilots and two women pilots or three male pilots and one women pilot, it is for the first time that we will have an all women cockpit crew,"  she said.

Captain Nivedita Bhasin, who was the co-pilot on the first all-women crew flight of erstwhile Indian Airlines 25-years ago, said, "We feel excited and nostalgic. Our CMD has also given us go ahead to operate as many flights as possible on this day. Indian Airlines was the first IATA member airline in the world to operate an all-women crew,"
Capt. Bhasin operated Air India's flight from Delhi to Mumbai with an all women crew.

"It gives us a sense of pride, success and jubilation to operate an all-women crew flight on such an important day," said Capt Bhasin. Captain Saudamini Deshmukh was the commander of the first all-women crew flight on Fokker Friendship F-27 that operated on Kolkata-Dibrugarh sector on November 29, 1985.

Air India currently has 136 women pilots that includes eight commanders. The task is going to be challenging one, Narula said, adding,  "especially when you will be flying over 10 different time  zones, more than a dozen countries, with every country having  different set of rules and procedures."

The flight would cris-cross Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Atlantic region and Canada before entering the US skies.

With more than 5,000 hours of flying experience, including 1,600 as a commander on different types of aircraft such as Airbus A310 and Boeing 747, Narula will be operating the second leg of the flight that would cross over Atlantic Ocean.

On the International Women's Day, Narula said it was a matter of celebration for the change in mindset. "Today, we have a negligible presence. But the way mindset is changing, I think in Air India too we will have at least 10 per cent women commanders in the times to come," she said.

Narula said the proposed Women Reservation Bill is a right step and helps in changing the mindset.  "I think a woman understands and handles problems in a better way than a man," she said.

Terming it a "nice feeling", Captain Shaifali Sharma, who would be flying an Air India's (IC-coded) flight from Delhi to Mumbai tomorrow, said "many a times passengers come and congratulate us when they come to know that the flight was being operated by women.

(Published 08 March 2010, 13:33 IST)

Follow us on