No pay disparity between male and female pilots, says Captain Shruti Banaji

Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, we meet Captain Shruti Banaji, who tells us that there is no room for gender divide in the cockpit

March 05, 2019 05:06 pm | Updated March 06, 2019 10:49 am IST

Flying high: Captain Shruti Banaji, Type Rated Instructor Boeing 737, Jet Airways inside a flight simluator at CAE in Bengaluru

Flying high: Captain Shruti Banaji, Type Rated Instructor Boeing 737, Jet Airways inside a flight simluator at CAE in Bengaluru

Captain Shruti Banaji finished her training sessions at about 5 am on Monday and within a few hours, at about 1 in the afternoon, she was back chatting with us. In high spirits, she stood tall and in complete charge. Women in India might take a little more time to rule the ground but they surely look ready to rule the skies.

At about 12%, India has the highest proportion of female commercial pilots in the world. And the numbers are only growing. After all, the Indian aviation sector is supposed to be growing at the fastest rate in the world. “There is no pay disparity between male and female pilots. You get opportunities based on merit,” says Shruti, who is also a Boeing 737 Type Rated Instructor with Jet Airways. She spends two weeks every month at the well-equipped CAE in Devanahalli in Bengaluru. CAE is an aviation training centre for pilots, where she undertakes sessions for “Ab initio (new recruits), First officers, Captains, Line Training Captains to Type Rated Instructor.”

A pilot for 12 years with 9,500 hours of flying experience, Shruti says she is immensely satisfied with her growth and the number of opportunities that came her way. From a first officer, Shruti went on to become a line training captain and eventually an instructor. “Jet Airways has about 1,800 pilots, out of which 240 are women,” says Shruti. The exposure and emphasis on the girl child has encouraged a lot of women to choose different types of careers. The myths had started to burst a long time ago, but with Avani Chaturvedi, Mohana Singh and Bhawana Kanth, the first batch of women fighter pilots being inducted in the Indian Air Force last year, the gender divide was broken further.

Shruti feels that the boy is not looked at as the only earning member of the family now, and parents do not hesitate to spend on their daughter’s education.

Flying high: Captain Shruti Banaji, Type Rated Instructor Boeing 737, Jet Airways at CAE in Bengaluru

Flying high: Captain Shruti Banaji, Type Rated Instructor Boeing 737, Jet Airways at CAE in Bengaluru

The daughter of a fighter pilot, Shruti fell in love with planes quite early on in life and was thrilled whenever she looked up and spotted an aeroplane. She had resolved to fly a plane. “My father told me that you have to get through to Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi in Fursatganj, Uttar Pradesh, considered the IIT of aviation education, otherwise you are not doing it. With three-step tests to get in, it is pretty difficult to get admission there but I got through,” says Shruti.

In 2007, she joined Jet Airways where her first flight was from Delhi to Mumbai. “You really feel you have got wings,” she recalls. Over the years, people’s attitude towards professional women has also changed. “Whenever we have an all-women-crew flight, I like to announce it and people are so happy. A lot of passengers don’t de-board, they wait to meet us. They ask us a lot of questions — how does one fly a plane and how to become a pilot.”

The young pilot is extremely passionate about flying and every day she heads back home feeling content. “I thought one day, ‘why do I love my job?’, and I realised that I get to finish what I set out to do every single day. The task isn’t left unfinished. I finish the journey. I do a good job. I fly safely, efficiently and I land well and I am done.”

Of course, the job comes with its own set of challenges, such as regularly changing the body clock, jet lag, low humidity and flying on festival days, special occasions when you would want to be home. “In that case, there are a lot of jobs which require you to be away from family and are physically challenging, these days. But I wouldn’t advise anyone to become a pilot just for money. If you do become a pilot for money, you will burn out soon. You need to have a passion for flying and what keeps us going is books. There is so much advancement happening in this field and so regularly and one needs to be aware of all that, so books never leave us.”

A holistic training at the institute coupled with on-the-job learning also equip them to deal with tricky situations. “We are trained for different approaches to a tricky airport like Leh or Imphal. A few years ago, a severe dust storm had hit the Middle East. I happened to be en-route to Dammam, Saudi Arabia on that particular night. We were informed while overflying Bahrain that our destination airport had shut down due to zero visibility and the storm was moving east at a very fast pace. We quickly turned back to divert and after careful considerations we had Dubai and Sharjah as options. Looking at the traffic situation in Dubai, a decision was made to land in Sharjah which was achieved before the storm hit the UAE.”

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