From humble beginnings to flying high

Meet, Capt. Jaswinder Kaur, fondly known as Jassi who has been making a mark as a pilot in a heavily male dominated industry, statistically. With women pilots calibrated at just 5% of the total pilot population globally, Jassi has come a long way from her humble beginnings in Punjab. From waving her hands excitedly as an airplane passed overhead and writing “I want to fly in the sky”, she has ‘touched the sky in literal sense. The road to her dreams did not come easy, as Jassi spent four years travelling 135 km every day from Kharar town to Karnal in Punjab Roadways buses just to get her CPL (Commercial Pilot License). With a few turbulent experiences initially, she’s been ‘flying with passion’ with AirAsia India since May 2016 and has been an invaluable part of the AllStars family (AirAsia India fondly refers to all its employees). Capt. Jaswinder Kaur, is a social media star with people applauding not just her skills as a pilot, but also the strong and inspirational woman she is. Her Instagram handle @pilotjassigr8 gives you a sneak peek into the glorious life of an AirAsia Pilot. Here’s what she has to say about her journey…

1. Did you always cherish your dream of flying?
Absolutely, ever since I realised that one had to grow up and do something I knew all I wished for was to fly in the sky. Looking up at those airplanes as a kid and waving excitedly as they passed overhead, I wanted to be the one piloting those big jets. Back in my school, all my notebooks had my aim written on the very first page, “I want to fly in the sky.”

2. How did you make it happen? Where did you study?
I have done my Sr. School from Govt. Model Sr. Sec. School 21, Chandigarh and just after my school, I joined Haryana Institute of Civil Aviation (HICA) a Flying Club at Pinjore. It was a coincidence that the Chief flying instructor of the club had met my father a few months back and that’s how I got to know that there was a flying club in Pinjore. First thing, as I got myself enrolled in the club, I was told to get my medicals done and the second thing was a reality check that the future of a pilot back in those days was not deemed bright, with airline jobs limited to a privileged few. I was told to consider something like an engineering degree or Bsc. Nevertheless pursuing what I had embarked upon, I completed the flying hours from HICA Pinjore, Karnal and Northern India Flying Club (NIFC) Patiala, passed the theoretical exams of the DGCA and got myself a CPL (Commercial Pilot License). For my multiengine rating or training, I went to Melbourne for 2 weeks.

3. How challenging was it?
Coming from a non-aviation family background and with very limited knowledge of “how to be a pilot”, it was an unknown road that I embarked upon all those years ago and the journey, unfortunately, had no Google maps to point me in the right direction. However, what I did have was the will and perseverance, to find my own way. My family played a pivotal role in making me what I am today, the biggest support lent was in terms of the financial support and the unquestionable faith for my choice of being a pilot that they vested in me. For other things, I had to manage on my own. I took notes and books from my seniors in the flying club and never went to any professional coaching classes and self-studied to clear those DGCA exams! Being a studious kid did help. During my training at HICA Karnal, I used to travel over 150 kms taking a bus from my home to the flying club then fly the airplane to clock the stipulated flying hours and then again come back home traversing the same distance in the public transport every day. If only I had logged those bus hours from home to Pinjore or Karnal or Patiala. I would have trebled my flying hours. It took me three years to get my CPL including the multi-engine rating.

4. Any advice for budding pilots?
Have conviction in your dreams. Aspire to be where you see yourself with hardwork, determination and diligence. As a means to provide quality training with flexible finance options from HDFC to aspiring pilots, AirAsia India has recently launched the Cadet-Pilot program which is a streamlined, economical and a well-structured pathway to becoming a pilot.

5. How has the journey been so far?
My journey so far has been a roller coaster with its fair share of ups and downs, but mostly ups. I set a goal for my life that was- to be a Pilot- to fly high in the literal and symbolic sense and with the blessings of the almighty and my parents and through unstinting hardwork. I have been fortunate to turn my dream into a reality and here I am proudly flaunting my well-earned wings. In 2006 I started my career with the first low-cost airline of India, Air Deccan on a turboprop aircraft ATR as a first officer (co-pilot) and got upgraded to A320 co-pilot during the merger of Air Deccan and Kingfisher Airlines. With Kingfisher Airlines I have seen the Good times (becoming a captain on A320 was the best one) and the not so good ones like working without compensation and then the airline getting locked down never to come back. Post that I did a brief spell at Go Air and now I have been flying for AirAsia India for over 3 years. It has been a very pleasant stint with AirAsia India, as it feels like one big family. Like a wise man once -Do a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.

6. Any highpoints across your journey?
For a pilot, the star point of life is the day of first solo flight, as a student pilot it’s the first time when your instructor gives you the yellow colored airplane and you fly alone. Getting a job purely based on merit was another. Flying the airliner as a Captain for the first time is something to be cherished forever. The highpoints come everyday with the satisfaction of a job well done and the delight of seeing happy passengers.

7. Any differences you have come across in your journey on male vs female pilots?
To be honest, while the airline industry has offered a fairly level playing field to women it is the bias towards a female pilot from the passengers that is disheartening sometimes. While some are proud to see your accomplishments, others most of the time look at you with apprehension and doubt if you could actually fly them safely. That bias still hangs thick in the air where a major amount of people still perceive an airline Captain as a male.