Parents should save money for their daughters’ higher education rather than for their wedding. This reformative thought is gaining momentum in Indian society where fathers start dreaming of daughters’ grand wedding and saving for the big day right from the cradling of baby girls. Some parents are exceptions, like Kalpana Chawla’s father. He had taken his daughter to a flying club and requested a pilot to give her a ride. This marked the beginning of her epic journey to having become a legendary astronaut in 1995 when there was no “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” campaign by the government of India.
The parents of India’s youngest commercial pilot, Sakshi Kochhar, invested in their daughter’s dream of flying high to the height of 35,000 feet. On 30 May 2023, she celebrated her 18th birthday and her feat of earning a commercial pilot license. Interestingly, she broke the record of Maitri Patel from Gujarat. Maitri, when 19, became the youngest civil pilot in 2022 and broke the record of Ayesha Aziz from Kashmir. Ayesha Aziz took to skies with her pilot license at the age of 21.
Sakshi, who is now the youngest civil pilot of the world’s second populous nation, made headlines once again on Father’s Day 2023 as she made a wish to give back Rs 70 lakh that her parents spent on her training in India and America. It is nearly impossible for middle-class Indian families to afford lakhs of rupees for fulfilling their children’s career dreams. However, Sakshi’s parents poured out their savings for her training in civil aviation. Indeed, it is financially and psychologically draining for the middle-income group. Sakshi feels indebted to not only her parents, but also grandparents.
Multi-talented Sakshi is from a small town in Himachal Pradesh, where the richest Indian American billionaire – cyber tycoon Jay Chaudhry with a net worth of $12bn – had studied under a tree in his childhood. Himachal Pradesh is not only a place of scenic beauty that begets poetry, but also a place of lofty mountains that make one dream big.
Unlike Maitri Patel, Sakshi Kochhar was not fixated on the idea of flying aircraft in her childhood. She had a penchant for dancing. She was a state-level runner-up in dance before she aspired to make it big in civil aviation. That’s why she took up Mathematics and Physics in her 12th grade at the Government Model Senior Secondary School, Chandigarh. After having passed the 12th grade, she joined the Skyline Aviation Club in Mumbai; her maiden step into the world of aviation for basic training.
After 4 months of ground training in Mumbai, she traveled to the USA for advanced training in commercial aviation. She got trained in the dynamics of piloting a passenger aircraft there, completed the program only in 7 and half months, earned a commercial pilot license (CPL), and became India’s youngest commercial pilot. Hope an employment opportunity with IndiGo or Air India that is on a hiring spree for pilots will soon give her thrust to take off.
“Though JRD Tata pioneered civil aviation by piloting British India’s first commercial flight in October 1932, it was Indian women who blazed a trail for next-generation women to become pilots. In 1936, Sarla Thakral was the first Indian woman to enter the cockpit in a saree and fly a double-winged Gypsy Moth aircraft solo. She was a 21-year-old mother with a four-year-old child back then,” said Sourav Agarwal, the Editor of Travel Beats, a leading Indian Diaspora portal by Indian Eagle Travel.
It is a startling fact that India’s share of total female commercial pilots in the world is 12.5%, a little more than double of the United States’. Ireland and South Africa are next to India. Canada and Germany’s share of the world’s female pilot strength stands at 7%. The representation of female pilots is the poorest in Singapore and Japan.