By Anand Singh
Captain Zoya Aggarwal, who in January this year crossed another milestone by commanding an all-women team to pilot Air India’s longest non-stop commercial flight from US’s San Francisco to India’s Bengaluru, says that the main motto of her life is to make an “impact” on the lives of lakhs of youths to dream big.
The United Nations has chosen Aggarwal as its Spokesperson for Generation Equality. On International Youth Day, the UN also featured India and Air India to spread awareness amongst the youth. This is a big moment for India as the UN has featured for the first time a pilot from Air India on its global platform. This is the first time ever that UN women has kicked off world youth day with India.
In an interview to IANS on the International Youth Day, Aggarwal, who has been featured by the UN said, “I was just eight years old when I saw an aeroplane flying while sitting on the terrace of my house. And there and then I decided to fly a plane and to touch the stars.”
She said that as a kid, she started preparing to fulfil her dreams. Agarwal said that she had to face a lot of resistance as she came from a very humble and conservative family. “But for me it was possible,” she said, adding, “I believed in myself and went for my goal and told my parents, eventually to become a pilot.”
She said that as she was the only child of her parents, her mother was in tears while her father was nervous, and then he asked her to get admission in college thinking that she will forget about her dream to be a pilot. She said that she went to St Stephen’s in Delhi and then completed her Science degree and side by side also got herself enrolled for the aviation classes in the remaining days time.
“And I needed a prove that I can achieve my goal and of course I needed the support of my parents, without whom I couldn’t have done that. I also had a piggy bank in which I have been saving for last 17 years which I contributed for enrolling into the aviation classes,” she said.
“I remember when I had to complete my assignments I used to study even under the street lights when there were power cuts. I then topped in my college and then my parents also felt that I needed to get enrolled for the pilot course to achieve my goals.
“I was fortunate that my parents agreed and then took a loan. And I was the fifth girl to fly in Air India in 2004. At that point of time to get into Air India was very tough. For seven vacancies there were over 3,000 applicants with more experience than me. But despite the things that were against me I was lucky to get in,” she said.
“My father also had a heart attack, just three days before my exam of Air India. He was in tears in the ICU before I was going for the exam and he was upset because I was going without him. He was nervous that how tough it was for children to compete at such an early age,” she recalled.
She said that her first flight was from Delhi to Dubai. Agarwal in 2013 was the youngest woman to fly the Boeing 777 in the world. “In 2021 I became the first ever woman captain to fly over the north pole with an all women crew, creating world history. That flight created a number of records and also put India on the world map,” she said.
Agarwal was among the first few pilots and cabin crews to volunteer for the Vande Bharat Mission to evacuate Indian nationals from all across the world in view of the Covid pandemic. “After the Covid pandemic became serious in the US, I volunteered, it was a call of duty. Our first Vande Bharat flight from the US’s San Francisco to India’s Mumbai with all Indian consulate staff was on Mother’s Day. I was away from my mother but I was fortunate to reunite hundreds of families with their mothers,” she said.
“And when our flight landed in Mumbai the passengers cheered for me and even the people at the airport wearing their face shields were applauding for us with tears in their eyes,” she recalled. “It was an opportunity to rise to the occasion and that was the inspiration as these memories will go to our graves with us,” Agarwal said.
And the message through my entire journey is that if a girl from a humble background can do this, it will inspire lakhs of youths whether men or women to dream big in their lives, she said. She added that she keeps on getting letters and DMs on Instagram where the people say that they had lost hope but after coming to know of my story they want to do something. “There must be a reason why people are following me. There must a reason that God has given me an opportunity to serve mankind. And then I got to the United Nations, which is like my another dream coming true, as I always wanted to work for it as it gives a wide platform to inspire people.
“My goal in life is to make an impact on the lives of the people and the UN is the best place where I can do that meaningfully,” she added.
(Anand SIngh can be contacted at [email protected])