Recently, a report published by the international media made all of us proud. It said that the country which has the most number of women pilots is ‘India’. The headlines read “Just over 5% of airline pilots worldwide are female, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, yet in one country that figure soars to 13%. A surprising leader when it comes to equality in aviation, that country is India”. Meanwhile, there was one more reason for Belgaumites to be proud as one of the female pilots hails from Belagavi; Miss Shruti Venkatesh.
Most of us go blank in our childhood when someone asked us about our future plans. We went clueless scratching our head and somehow escaped from that person, mostly a relative. Shruti was not one of those who was clueless about the future. She was firm right from her childhood that she wanted to become a pilot. She says, “Even as a kid I knew what I wanted and I have a family who supported me with all my decisions. It is not just financial help but also moral support provided by my parents and grandparents that led me to achieve my dreams”
Shruti narrates, “So I started my journey after my 12th standard. I completed my 12th in science after which I enrolled in Gujarat flying club in Baroda. My first flight was on a Cessna 152. A small 2 seater aircraft that danced with even the littlest breeze. That’s where I had my first solo flight. It’s the most thrill feeling to be flying an aircraft all by yourself and being able to land it. While I was in this flying school I decided to complete 4 theory exams, this took me about 1.5 years. Then I enrolled myself into BSC in aviation out of Mumbai University.
While I was studying for my degree I also was taking tuitions for the commercial pilot license exams. During this period I met other pilots who had done their flying out of India and they made me realize I must do the same.
I began my research and found a flying school in California. At first, I was afraid to inform my father since the cost would be a little more. But after I got my formal letter from the flying school from the USA he was happy to help. I got my Visa immediately and left for the USA. It took me about 1 year to finish my flying in the USA; there I changed 2 flying schools for the aircraft requirement. I flew the Cessna 172, Piper Arrow and the Piper Seneca. I had the opportunity to fly in southern California over Los Angeles and to Las Vegas, and to many other cities in California.
I had my American flying license on multi-engine aircraft. I was ready to come back to India and get my American license converted to Indian license. But when I returned certain rules had changed and I had to do certain hours of flying in India, only then I would get my license. So I enrolled in Madras flying club and stayed my aunt in Chennai. Flying out of Chennai international airport on a tiny, 4 seater Cessna 172 was another experience. Once the tests were done I submitted my document and got my license in about 5 months. This was just the first step.
After I got back to India I attempted various airline entrance exams. The vacancy for airlines comes only when they are in need of pilots. Months would pass by and no vacancies would come. After about 1.5 years my friend suggested I must do type rating. A type rating is flight lessons on a simulator for a particular aircraft like Airbus, Boeing, etc. This training is normally provided by airlines after joining the company. I chose to go for a type rating to Madrid in Spain.
Global training aviation, Madrid was one of the best decisions I have taken and the best training academy for a type rating on Airbus A320. After 2 months of training, I came to India. And a few months later I had the opportunity to appear for Indigo airlines written exams, which was only for pilots who had done their type rating on their own. Every level in an airline entrance is an elimination round. In Indigo first was written exam, then a psychometric round, group discussion round, eye-hand coordination round, personal interview followed by a technical interview. I also had to do a 1-month training to join Indigo which too was self-sponsored. After clearing these rounds I was finally in a group of selected pilots. I signed the contract and have been flying for 2 years now.
The struggle was for a total of 6 long years but Shruti never gave up or regretted on her decision. Becoming a pilot is not difficult. But keeping the faith and patience of being an airline pilot is a must.
Presently Shruti is working as a co-pilot with Indigo Airlines. Her Mom began her career at Belagavi and later joined the Central Excise department. Her Dad is working as Chief Manager with the Indian Oil Corporation. Her grandparents have had distinguished jobs and are presently living a happy and healthy retired life in Belagavi. She has a sister Preeti Venkatesh, who has a degree in Fashion styling and image designing.
Even if she is always flying constantly in the skies, Shruti says she misses the lush green and fresh air of Belagavi. Asked whether ‘sky is the limit?’ she smiles and says, ‘Nah.. Sky is the home.’