A decade ago when a humble bakery worker’s daughter announced at an event that she wanted to become a Pilot little did anyone imagine this petite girl will turn her dream into reality. Today, this hijab-wearing girl, Syeda Salva Fatima, is a pilot who has flown continents.
In any given week, the Hyderabad-born Syeda Salva Fatima jets off anywhere crossing continents. In a profession traditionally dominated by men, Captain Syeda Salva Fatima has earned the rare distinction of the hijab-wearing youngest woman ever to command a commercial passenger Airbus 320.
This 30-plus-year-old has overcome tremendous odds including social disapproval of her choices, financial setbacks, and language barriers to get where she is today.
Her father worked at a bakery for a small salary. Given the inherent financial difficulties of the family, Syed Salva Fatima’s steely determination and hard work led her to get trained as a pilot and fly Airbus A 320.
Speaking with Awaz-the Voice about her journey Fatima said, “I used to look up at the sky from a very young age, and I remember wanting to touch it and fly through the clouds! I used to collect pictures of different aircraft.”
People laughed at her dream and her parents suggested her to prepare for the entrance test for engineering colleges. After passing her 12th, she enrolled for coaching for the engineering entrance examination conducted by an Urdu daily.
At a program during her coaching, the Editor of the Urdu Daily Zahid Ali Khan asked her what she wanted to become and she promptly replied a “Pilot.”
Syeda Salva Fatima with her copilot
Amazed at her confidence, he decided to give wings to her dreams and she was enrolled in the Andhra Pradesh Aviation Academy in 2007.
Despite failures, she remained undeterred and finally completed her training. She logged in 200 hours of flying in the Cessna 152 aircraft and 123 Hours of solo flight.
She says, “My best moment was when I flew for the first time. Also, every time I fly the big bird Airbus 320 in command, that's the best feeling ever!”
I asked her what is the favourite part of her job. “The pride of wearing my uniform, getting to travel and learn, and of course, flying itself is very exciting.” She said promptly.
“I wore hijab during the training in India and abroad,” says Syeda Salva Fatima. There was never a problem because of the hijab she added. She was lauded in Bahrain at the Gulf Aviation Academy and her pictures in hijab and her uniform were published in a magazine. She says it’s not the clothes but the education and the ability which helps whether it is aviation or any other profession. One has to prove one’s capabilities in every profession.
She got her Commercial pilot license in 2013 but realized that she needed huge funds 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. Says Syeda Salva Fatima agreed to their proposal since due to lack of finances, she couldn’t go ahead in her career.
However, while she was in the family way the Telangana Government announced financial assistance of Rs.36 lakhs for her multi-engine training and type-rating.
Syed Salva Fatima, who became a mother soon felt her daughter brought her luck.
Pilot Salva Fatima got the Telangana government scholarship in 2015 and she was able to complete the remaining training and joined as a Co-pilot in Indigo in 2019 Feb. When she delivered the baby, people kept asking her if she would still pursue her career in aviation. Pat was her reply: “I have spent such a long time to achieve the goal, why should I step back? I need to move ahead. “
Interestingly, after the Telangana government had transferred the scholarship money for Salva Fatima to GMR Aviation Academy and she was about to begin the training, the aircraft was grounded due to an accident. Again, she refused to give up and appealed to the Telangana that ultimately sent her abroad for training.
Today, Syed Salva Fatima is working for Indigo Airlines and is on maternity leave with her second child.
How does being a woman feel like in a male-dominated profession Did she face any discrimination and if so, how did she deal with it?
To these, Farima said, “I have faced similar challenges that come to other women working in professions involving travel. It’s important to stay focused, and have a sense of professionalism. That has helped me.”