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Reaching for Stars: Meet Zoya Agarwal, the Air India Pilot Who Scripted History By Flying World's Longest Air Route

Zoya said even at the tender age of eight, she knew she wanted to become a pilot. (Credit: Humans of Bombay/facebook)

Zoya said even at the tender age of eight, she knew she wanted to become a pilot. (Credit: Humans of Bombay/facebook)

Zoya's middle-class background initially limited her ambitions and she was even hesitant to share her aspirations with her parents.

When Air India Captain Zoya Agarwal took off for Bengaluru from the San Francisco airport with her all-woman cockpit on January 9, 2021, she was creating history with every minute that she flew. Zoya was the captain of the all-women cockpit that took the longest flight. Now, she has spoken to Humans of Bombay about her life, struggles of becoming a pilot and the creation of this historic journey. Zoya was 8 when she first realized that she wanted to be a pilot. She describes how she would go to the terrace and look at aeroplanes in the sky and wonder if maybe if she was flying one of these aeroplanes, she would be able to touch the sky.

However, her middle-class background initially limited her ambitions and she was even hesitant to share her aspirations with her parents. But the thought never went away and after she completed her class 10, she finally shared her dream with her parents. The initial reactions were not very encouraging for her, they were worried about the expenses of pilot training.

Still, Zoya was determined and took Science in Class 11 and 12. After excelling in her 12th board exams, Zoya took up Physics in graduation and simultaneously applied for an aviation course. She used all her savings of years to pay for the fees of her course.

Zoya would attend her college class and run off to the aviation course which was practically on the other side of the city.

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She made sure that her regular studies weren’t affected by her dream. Zoya topped her college exams and went to her father for his permission to pursue her dream. She got a hesitant nod from him but he agreed to take a loan for the course. She excelled there too.

But the struggle was not over for her yet, she had to wait for 2 years for a job opportunity before finally getting a job at Air India. A job for which she had to compete with over 3000 other applicants with just 7 vacancies. But even this was not easy, 4 days before for her job exam, Zoya’s father had a heart attack, and she did not want to leave her father in that condition.

However, Zoya’s father persuaded her to go and she went to Mumbai to take the exam. She cleared all the rounds and joined Air India as First Office.

In 2004, her dream of ‘touching the stars’ came true when she took her first flight to Dubai and there has not been any looking back since.

In January this year, Zoya created history when she commanded flight AI176 covering the longest aerial distance between San Francisco and Bengaluru. Zoya adds, “I led the first all-women cockpit to fly the world’s longest air route," she says. “On 9th January 2021, I became the first woman in the world to fly across opposite poles."

After successfully completing the flight, Zoya and other crew members were welcomed at the Bengaluru Airport with banners and applause from the Air India team.

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