Hyderabad: “I want to become a pilot.” The dream of a humble bakery worker’s daughter from the poverty-stricken neighborhood of Sultan Shahi in the old city of Hyderabad had started growing wings a decade ago. Hijab-wearing Syeda Salva Fatima is now all set to join an airline and is one of the four Muslim women in India who hold a Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL).
Fresh from multi-engine training in New Zealand and type-rating in Bahrain, this Hyderabad woman is waiting for an endorsement from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) which will enable her to fly the Airbus A320.
What makes Salva’s story stand out is her lower-middle-class background and the fact that she wore a “hijab” (head scarf) during the entire course of training in India and abroad.
“I had it all the time on my head and wore it over the uniform. There was never a problem because of the hijab,” Fatima told. “Where there is will, there is away. It’s your education and ability which helps you,” says Salva.
People laughed her dream to become a pilot. Her parents suggested that she prepare herself for engineering. After passing 12th, she enrolled for coaching conducted by Urdu daily Siasat for the engineering entrance examination.
At a programme during her coaching, Zahid Ali Khan, editor of Siasat, asked her what she wanted to become. She promptly said — “Pilot”. Khan was surprised by her confidence. “If I had not uttered the word pilot, I wouldn’t have been here,” she said recalling the incident which became a launching pad for her career.
Khan, along with his friends and philanthropists, decided to give wings to her dreams and she was enrolled in the Andhra Pradesh Aviation Academy in 2007.
“I failed thrice in navigation papers. I used to get demotivated, but Zahid Sir kept encouraging me. He used to tell me that failure is next step towards success.”
Five years later, she completed her training at the Aviation Academy, logging 200 hours of flying in the Cessna 152 aircraft and 123 hours of solo flight.
After obtaining a CPL in 2013, she found that she needed huge money to go for multi-engine training and type-rating to be able to fly big airplanes.
She was then 24 and her parents asked her to get married. “I didn’t have any other option. I was not sure how the funds will come.” She was in four months of her pregnancy when the Telangana government announced financial assistance of Rs 36 lakh for her multi-engine training and type-rating.
“Some or the other problem kept cropping up but I didn’t give up and appealed to the government to send me abroad for training.”
In New Zealand, she flew a multi-engine aircraft for 15 hours and also trained on a simulator for 10 hours. At Gulf Aviation Academy in Bahrain, she did the type-rating on Airbus. It was a 52-hour multi-function display training and 62 hours of training on a motion simulator, which gives the trainee a feeling of actually flying an aircraft.
Salva has no preference for any airline and is open to joining any carrier that has an Airbus fleet. “I will join whichever airline first offers me a job.”
The captain wants to give something back to society. She will spend part of her salary on the needy for their education, treatment or marriage.