A decade ago when a humble bakery worker's daughter answered, "I want to become a pilot" at an event, little did anyone see that dream turning into reality. Today, hijab-wearing Syeda Salva Fatima is all set to join an airline and is one of the four Muslim women in India who hold a commercial pilot licence (CPL).
Fresh from multi-engine training in New Zealand and type-rating in Bahrain, this woman from Hyderabad is waiting for an endorsement from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), which will enable her to fly the Airbus A320. It was, however, not a smooth ride as she had to overcome many odds to attain her life's ambition. The daughter of a bakery worker, Salva comes from the poverty-stricken neighbourhood of Sultan Shahi in the old city of Hyderabad.
What makes Salva's story stand out is her lower-middle-class background and the fact that she wore a hijab during the entire course of training in India and abroad.
I had it on my head all the time and wore it over the uniform. There was never a problem because of the hijab, Fatima told IANS.
At the Gulf Aviation Academy in Bahrain, she was lauded for wearing a hijab and her pictures were published in its magazine. Speaking about the stereotypes hijab-wearing women face, she said,
It's your education and ability which help you, be it aviation or any other profession. Nothing else matters. You have to prove that you are capable of doing what you are supposed to do.
From her school days, she used to collect articles about the aviation industry and pictures of different aircraft, but people laughed at her dream. Her parents suggested that she prepare herself for engineering. After passing 12th standard, she enrolled for coaching conducted by Urdu daily Siasat for the engineering entrance examination.
She was enrolled in the Andhra Pradesh Aviation Academy in 2007. Five years later, she completed her training at the Aviation Academy, logging 200 hours of flying in the Cessna 152 aircraft and 123 hours of solo flight.
I failed thrice in navigation papers. I used to get demotivated, but Zahid sir kept encouraging me. He used to tell me that failure is the next step towards success.
After obtaining a CPL in 2013, she found that she needed a huge amount to go for multi-engine training and type-rating to be able to fly big aeroplanes. She was then 24 and her parents asked her to get married.
"I didn't have any other option. I was not sure how the funds would come," she said. She was four months pregnant when the Telangana government announced financial assistance of Rs 36 lakh for her multi-engine training and type-rating. "My daughter was lucky for me," she said.
After waiting for one year, she joined Telangana Aviation Academy for multi-engine training. In New Zealand, she flew a multi-engine aircraft for 15 hours and also trained on a simulator for 10 hours. At Gulf Aviation Academy in Bahrain, she did the type-rating on Airbus. It was a 52-hour multi-function display training and 62 hours of training on a motion simulator, which gives the trainee a feeling of actually flying an aircraft.
Salva has no preference for any airline and is open to joining any carrier that has an Airbus fleet.
I will join whichever airline first offers me a job. Have a clear goal and positive thinking. Dedication and hard work don't go waste, is Salva's message to girls with dreams like hers.
The captain wants to give something back to society. She will spend part of her salary on the needy for their education, treatment, or other requirements.
With inputs from IANS.