Captain Zoya Agarwal [Air India Pilot]
Captain Zoya Agarwal is an accomplished Indian pilot who made history by becoming the first woman commander of Air India to lead a non-stop flight from San Francisco to Bengaluru. Her remarkable achievement has not only broken barriers in the aviation industry but also serves as an inspiration to millions of women around the world.
Zoya Agarwal Early Life and Education
Captain Zoya Agarwal was born in Mumbai, India, in 1986. She grew up in a family of doctors and engineers, but from a young age, she had a passion for flying. As a child, she would often visit the airport with her father and watch planes take off and land. This fascination with aviation led her to pursue a career as a pilot.
She attended the Bombay Flying Club and completed her pilot training in 2007. After obtaining her commercial pilot license, she started working for a private airline in India. In 2013, she joined Air India, one of the country’s largest airlines, as a co-pilot.
Captain Zoya Agarwal’s Personal Life
Captain Zoya Agarwal is married and has a son. Despite the demands of her career, she has been able to balance her personal and professional life. She is known for her discipline and dedication to her job and has often been praised for her professionalism.
In addition to her work as a pilot, Captain Agarwal is also involved in social causes. She has worked with organizations that focus on the education and empowerment of women and has been an advocate for gender equality.
Career and Achievements of Indian Pilot Zoya Agarwal
In 2006, The Times of India highlighted Agarwal as a rising female aviator of India. She became the youngest woman pilot in India to fly a Boeing-777 in 2013. Agarwal garnered attention for her role in saving a passenger’s life on a flight bound for New York in 2015. After a passenger complained of breathlessness, she decided to turn back the flight and land at Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, where the passenger was taken to a nearby hospital.
As a precautionary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of India initiated Vande Bharat Mission in May 2020 to evacuate around 14,800 Indians from twelve countries on sixty-four Air India flights. Agarwal was chosen to co-pilot the first repatriation flight by the airline.
In 2021, Agarwal captained an all-woman crew making the inaugural flight from San Francisco to Bengaluru, one of the longest non-stop air routes in the world. Later that month, the crew made an appearance on Indian Idol for its Republic Day special episode. Later that year, Agarwal was chosen by the United Nations as its spokesperson for Generation Equality.
In August 2022, Zoya got inducted into a prominent US-based aviation museum – Louis a. turpen aviation museum. The SFO-based aviation museum recognized Zoya Agarwal’s illustrious career in aviation and her passion for empowering women worldwide. She has motivated millions of young women and girls to achieve their ambitions.
With copilots R Someshwar, Sandeep Mukhedkar, and Abhay Agarwal, Zoya Agarwal piloted Air India’s first Boeing 777 aircraft over the Hindu Kush mountain range. The route cut flight time of one of Delhi’s most popular non-stop routes to North America, compared to a route taken since Afghan airspace was closed to non-defense aircraft in August. The airline previously began flying its Boeing 787s over the Hindu Kush mountain range in October.
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Answer by Captain Zoya Agarwal, About Her Journey
Is it true that you enrolled for an aviation course with the money you had saved up over the years?
I had the habit of saving the money I received on birthdays.
My nanaji would give me some money on Diwali, which I’d also save.
Then during Raksha Bandhan I’d receive money for tying rakhi — I didn’t have siblings so I used to tie rakhi to the entire world.
I never spent my savings and when I was in college and wanted to pursue an aviation course as well, I used that money.
My parents never wanted me to become a pilot. So, during the three years of my graduation, I had to convince them that I was not letting go of my dream at any cost.
I was always academically inclined. My parents thought once I get into a good college I might get distracted and not want to pursue my dream.
I had to prove to my parents that I was serious about my flying course.
I didn’t ask them for money as I did not want to ask them for something they couldn’t afford.
So, I broke my piggy bank and paid for my aviation course, which at that time cost me a couple of thousand rupees.
Your biggest fear when you fly a plane?
I am the only child, so I have always feared that what if something happens to my parents if I’m out on a flight.
Once I was in Riyadh, and my mom felt ill. Nobody informed me as they felt I’d rush back to India.
The call of duty is a tough one, and the only time I wish I had a sibling is when I am flying.
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Was it difficult juggling your graduation in science alongside an aviation course?
I used to wake up at 6 in the morning, attend college till 3:30, and then travel by bus from one end of the city to the other end to attend the aviation course.
I would get back home by 10 pm and — when there was no electricity at home — I would surrender myself happily to the mosquitoes under the street lights and finish off my assignments.
I had too much in my platter so every day I worked hard towards finishing off my assignments.
Even during the weekends I’d attend the aviation classes and I refused to slack.
That was my only chance to prove to my parents that I was serious about flying and I didn’t want to fail.
When the results were out, I topped in college and my classmates couldn’t understand how someone who was so distracted about becoming a pilot could do so well.
My parents felt that as I had worked very hard for three years and I deserved to pursue my dreams.
By the end of my college, my father helped me in taking a loan to pursue my dream of becoming a pilot.
Have you been ever told that flying planes is a man’s job?
Around the time I was studying, being a pilot was a new profession; it was out-of-the-box. Even if I had to tell my college friends that I wanted to become a pilot, they would give me that look.
Everybody, even my teachers were like, ‘Really! Who becomes a pilot? And then you are a girl.’
The pilot’s seat doesn’t know whether I’m a man or a woman.
For me, it is a job that needs to be done whether the pilot is a man or a woman.
It is more about people’s perception about a job and high-time that perception changes.
There is a very low percentage of women pilots across the globe.
In India the numbers are a little better. But I would love to see more women in uniform.
What do you love the most about your job?
Every single day the job fascinates me.
I have an amazing office that has ever-changing views and I have had the opportunity to travel the world.
Even today, I am like a kid in candy land — I look at my airplane with as much excitement as an eight year old.
I love the fact that there are young kids who come up to me and tell me that they want to become pilots like me. It is so sweet and touching.
There are so many parents telling me that they want their daughters to be like me. It is such an amazing feeling.
I have so much respect and appreciation for every single moment of my career.
The job also lets me achieve these impossible feats that inspire and empower women world over.
How has life been post the flight you commanded from San Francisco to Bengaluru?
I didn’t know that the flight would turn out as such a huge inspiration for people.
The messages I get on Instagram are unbelievable.
There are children who are so inspired by me that I have tears in my eyes when I read their messages.
People write to me and tell me that they had given up on their dreams, but now want to pursue them.
Why is it important for people to dream?
Somewhere I feel people should let their children dream.
If one does not dream, how will they make their dreams come true. Everything starts with a dream.
If you have people who curb their dreams, it will end up in them being frustrated and they’ll not be able to realise their true potential.
I have been a dreamer since my childhood. I truly feel it is about how one perceives things.
No one is born a daredevil or go-getter. We become like that along the journey.
All you have to do is want something really bad from your heart and soul.
You can do anything you want if only you’re willing to work very hard to achieve it.
You may need to burn the midnight lamp and struggle, but it is worth the effort.
Don’t feel hesitant in putting your 100 per cent into your dreams.
Is the eight-year-old Zoya still alive in you?
I have an inner voice which guides me; I call her the ‘Inner Zoya’.
I owe a lot to her, because whenever I wanted to give up, that inner voice would push me to do better.
I am a human; I have my weak moments too. But that inner voice has always told me that failure is not an option.
I want to make the most of the beautiful life that The Almighty has gifted me.
I want to leave behind a better world for the future generations.
Even if you look closely at impossible you can read it as I’m possible.
My eight-year-old self had the courage to follow her heart and that’s how I want to be, all my life.
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Which was your most memorable flight?
There have been quite a few, but the one that comes to mind is when we managed to save a life.
In 2015, we took off from Delhi to New York in extremely bad weather and an hour after take off I was informed that a lady passenger was very unwell.
I feel that every life has value — the person is someone’s mother, daughter or wife.
The value of life for me is above all, including all the money in this world.
I was over Pakistan when the doctors told me the passenger had two hours to live.
I had a decision to make — whether to land in Lahore, which was very close, but one couldn’t ignore the tension that exists between the two countries, or return to Delhi.
There was no Plan B and I had to take the correct decision. I made a decision to return to Delhi, despite the bad weather.
I was carrying fuel to go from Delhi to New York, which is Olympic size fuel.
To be able to safely land back in Delhi, I had to get rid of that fuel.
The weather in Delhi was really bad, there was lightening.
If I had to remove fuel from the plane in Delhi, it would be my worst nightmare come true.
I had to jettison fuel over Pakistan, and I was able to negotiate with the Pakistani air control room and they came back to me with a positive reply.
We landed safely in Delhi and could save the passenger’s life. We also managed to take off for New York.
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What advice do you have for aspiring women pilots?
Please do not give up on your dreams, even if society is against it.
This is a challenge which a lot of women face in India, where your own family will tell you that this profession is way out of your league.
Not just becoming a pilot, for any profession my advice to women out there is to dream and carry on with your dreams without giving up.
Always remember every great reality, begins with a great dream.
And every great dream begins with a great dreamer.
Go ahead and dream, focus on your goal and work towards it.
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If there’s something you’d want right now, what would it be?
I want to see a free world. COVID-19 has taught all of us the huge value of freedom.
Right from the very breath we’re taking one realises that their freedom is curbed because we need to wear a mask.
I look forward to a world where we can travel again without fear.
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Hope you will like to read this article about Captain Zoya Agarwal he is truly an inspiration for the youth. Who wants to make a career in the aviation industry or as a pilot? Also, I want to tell you that aviation is not a job it is a professional life. So, if you dream of becoming an airman, prepare yourself and attend the interview for your desired post. thank you