“Wow, She Was Our Commander?” Meet The Youngest Woman To Fly A Boeing 777

“Wow, She Was Our Commander?”

Meet The Youngest Woman To Fly A Boeing 777

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In a world where roughly 95 percent of pilots are men, 30-year old Anny Diyva, a full-time pilot for Air India, is boldly flying in the face of stereotypes.

The youngest woman to ever command a Boeing 777, Diyva, says that her journey to the high skies was not without struggle. “I had my share of success and failures,” Divya tells SWAAY in an exclusive interview. “As one of the youngest women in this industry from the time I came into aviation, I had to overcome preconceived notions and build trust and confidence amongst my peers through grit, hard work and patience.”

Divya faced tough opposition from the people around her, which even made her parents re-think their decision of enrolling her into flight school (which they did anyway) for a time. After becoming a certified pilot and earning her four-yellow-striped epaulette at the age of 19, Divya has become an inspiration for many young women looking to earn their wings.

“In my small town of Vijaywada in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, with no aviation school and no knowledge of becoming a pilot, I have faced and been through plenty of challenges; language barriers, cultural differences, financial issues, no knowledge of aviation and even my sense of fashion to name few,” she says. “ Initially, I used to feel bad and I also was very timid but soon I overcame those with the support of family, my teachers who helped me to recognize my strengths and most importantly my determination to succeed which helped me to focus on what was wrong and how to correct the mistakes. By the time I finished my training, I was completely transformed and got the job immediately.

Here, SWAAY asks Divya more about her uncommon path to greatness in the sky.  

1. Where were you born? What kind of child were you?

I was born in Pathankot in state of Punjab (India) . I was very naughty as a child, I know from many childhood stories I heard about myself which I remember very faintly.

2. Do you have any influences as a young girl that you think helped you find the aviation industry?

Not as such for the aviation industry, but I think my first teacher, my mother, has built confidence in me which helped me dream without any obligations, for every small thing I did she encouraged me and reminding me that I’m capable of doing very well.

3. You entered flight school at age 17, how was that? Were you accepted by the men around you?
That was the turning point in my life. Suddenly from leading a sheltered life I was on my own. There were girls much older than me at the flying school. Some of them in their early 20s. We were all accepted but there was a lot of learning. For me, it began with communicating because I could barely speak English. Then there was understanding the social norms because despite all the love and caring my parents gave me, I did have some tough times. I had economical constraints too and this school helped me understand people and the world around me. The school was the best thing that happened to me.
4. How many flights do you do per day/week/month? What is a typical day like of a female Air India pilot?

Air India has been my dream job, it’s given me a platform to be where I am today. It’s a very professional airline to work with, I enjoy working with AirIndia. I mostly do ultra long haul flights, which are 14 to 16 hours long , five flights about 70 to 80 hours a month. Since I mostly do international flights, I have three kinds of days:

1) Flight day: First, I make sure to get enough rest before the flight, pack my bags and get ready for the flight. Then I reach dispatch, do the flight briefing, meet the entire crew and head for the aircraft. Next comes flight preparation and then take off.
2) Jet lag day: Typically it’s the day I land and reach the hotel or my home. I rest a lot, mostly sleeping and waking up at odd hours, and trying to adjust with the various time zones and adapting my eating habits.
3) Normal day: The days I am not flying and not jet lagged, I like to start my day with a hot cup of tea or coffee followed by a workout depending on where I am so it could be anything from yoga to Zumba. Then, if I am traveling I like sight seeing and shopping, but if I am home then I try catch up on some reading and spend some time with friends.
5. Can you share your short-term and long-term goals?
My short term goal is to enjoy what I am doing, because I love it, I waited for this for very long. Long term-wise, I made a list of 10 things I must to when I was in Grade 9. I don’t want to disclose all now but I have a lot more to do, but I will say being a pilot was on the list.
6. It seems that flying a plane is part technical, part mental. How do you put yourself in the headspace to fly such big planes?

There is a lot of training that goes into this. Many many years and man-hours are spent training, learning, testing and conditioning your mind and your body for it to become second nature to you.

7. How do you maintain a social life with so much running around? What do you do for fun?
Whenever I am home, I try to catchup with my friends, which I love to do. I like cycling, singing, dancing and lot of times I like doing nothing, I just want to be in peace and meditate.
8. What are your favorite cities to travel to? Do you get time to explore different countries/cities?

I absolutely love traveling and exploring new cities and I absolutely love love New York. It’s my favorite city but I also like Paris, London, Frankfurt and Chicago. I live in Mumbai because of my job but my home is where my parents live – Vijayawada in the state of Andhra Pradesh (India). And when I am traveling on work then it’s hotels that my airline puts me up in.

9. What is the reaction when passengers realize you were the pilot? Are they surprised?

They are quite pleasantly surprised. They don’t expect the pilot to be so young. And when they realize that I am the commander, their expressions are quite amusing, they are kind of awestruck. It’s like I can almost hear them saying ‘Wow was she our commander?” Sometimes some people reach out to shake my hand. It’s quite humbling actually.

10. What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue a career like yours. Also, do you have a life philosophy?
I want all young women to pursue their dreams. While choosing your career, consider all the options available to you without thinking that you are a girl, and choose the one you are passionate about because then you will not only do well but also you will love what you are doing. And, my life philosophy is I am still learning.
Belisa Silva

Belisa is an editor with more than 10 years of experience. Prior to SWAAY, she worked as freelance writer, covering lifestyle, fashion and beauty industries. Belisa was a Market Editor at Women's Wear Daily for five years, where she interviewed rockstar business women like Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez and Iman. Belisa also contributes to Cosmetic Executive Women, where she highlights female executives making an impact in the beauty industry.

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