25-year-old commercial pilot is a role model in a profession otherwise dominated by men
Ayesha Aziz, 25, became the country’s youngest pilot when she acquired her flying license at the age of 16. She now flies GoAir planes and is emerging as a role model among women in the Kashmir valley, who too are eager to break the social barriers of a conservative society to join professions otherwise dominated by men.
Ms. Aziz came into the limelight when she was swarmed by dozens of enthusiastic girls on January 2 this year at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar, when she attended the Lal Ded Khatoon-e-Kashmir Award 2021 function organised by the NGO Elfa International to honour Kashmir’s talented women achievers in different fields.
Ms. Aziz, whose mother is from north Kashmir’s Baramulla, and father a businessman from Maharashtra, procured her pilot’s license in 2011.
“I am half Kashmiri and trace my maternal roots to Kashmir. I received my first pilot licence at the age of 16, immediately after passing out of my Class X examination. I clocked 200 hours [of flying] to procure a commercial [pilot’s] licence. I was 22 when I got my commercial licence,” Ms. Aziz said.
Becoming a pilot was a challenge for Ms. Aziz. “Our family went through trials and tribulations because we don’t come from an aviation family. I am the first pilot [in my family]. It was a challenge and a whirlwind, in which my father encouraged me a lot,” she added.
Motivated by astronauts Sunita Williams and the late Kalpana Chawla, Ms. Aziz was in Class VI when she was attracted to flying the planes.
“My daughter used to do five-day schooling and weekend flying to achieve her goal. I feel proud that she became the country’s youngest pilot at 16, when she already had 50 hours of flying to her credit,” Ms. Aziz’s father Abul Aziz, who is engaged in the business of lignite extraction from Kashmir’s Kupwara, told The Hindu.
Mr. Aziz said his daughter’s determination could be gauged from the fact that she met both her role models. “She also underwent an astronaut training program at the NASA-Huntsville Space Centre,” he added.
Ms. Aziz was given the First Ladies’ Award by the President of India in 2018 and figured among the country’s top 100 women achievers.
“It gives me solace to see my daughter motivating others. It’s her determination and inquisitiveness that forced me to be a part of her career journey,” Mr. Aziz said.
Ms. Aziz’s friend Irtiqa Ayoub, a rugby coach in Srinagar, said she had managed to infuse courage and motivation in Kashmir’s younger generation. “Ayesha is rooted in Kashmiri culture and very strong. Many local girls are in touch with her to become pilots. Even I took her advice on how to withstand online bullying, especially if one is an achiever in otherwise male-dominated fields. Her tips really helped me tide over the online bullying,” Ms. Ayoub said.
Mehran Khan, who heads Elfa International, said Ms. Aziz’s interaction with local girls last month has renewed desire among them to be pilots. “She is a living example of achieving goals with sheer determination and focus,” Mr. Khan said.
Saiqa Rashid, a Class XII student from Bandipora, said she was motivated by Ms. Aziz to pursue her dream profession of being a pilot. “I had a mental block about the profession. She just removed it. When she can do it, I too can,” Ms. Rashid said.
Kashmir has already produced two female pilots in the past.