Bangalore: “I was on top of the world” said an elated Captain Zoya Aggarwal. She had every right to have such a feeling. Zoya Aggarwal headed the four-member all-woman cockpit crew that flew into Indian aviation history Monday. They landed the San Francisco-Bangalore Air India direct flight after going over the North Pole.
The AI-176 landed at the Kempegowda International Airport here and the crew members walked to the lounge. A huge crowd gave a rousing reception to all-woman team for scripting history with the about 17-hour journey. It is longest flight by the national carrier or any other airline in India.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said the four-member cockpit crew created history. Governors of various states, leaders, including Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu, and social media users lavishly praised the women pilots.
Captain Aggarwal, the first pilot, said she felt as if she was on top of the world flying over the North pole, surrounded by Arctic ocean. “I was on the top of the world. I would rather call it, top of the North Pole because the North Pole was the world for me when I was commanding that Boeing-777 200 LR above 34,000 feet,” Captain Aggarwal said.
The other three women pilots were Captain Papagari Thanmai, Captain Akansha Sonaware and Captain Shivani Manhas. The flight departed from San Francisco in the USA at around 8.30pm (local time) Saturday. It landed here at around 3.45am Monday. The direct distance between the two cities at opposite ends of the world is 13,993 km with a time zone change of around 13.5 hours.
Asked if there was any fear flying over the Polar region, Aggarwal said she only felt excitement. She said her instructors had all along inculcated complete confidence in pilots like her. “I am very motivated. I don’t think the word fear exists in Air India. No, not at all,” asserted Aggarwal.
She also thanked the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India for reposing faith on her and other crew members. Aggarwal said she is grateful, felt happy and humbled. She also gave credit to the ‘weather God’ as the weather across the polar region was ‘immaculate and suitable in order to make a polar flight happen’.
“In a moment to cherish & celebrate, women professionals of Indian civil aviation create history. Heartiest congratulations to Capt Zoya Aggarwal, Capt Papagari Thanmai, Capt Akansha Sonaware & Capt Shivani for flying over North Pole to land in Bangalore from San Francisco,” Puri tweeted. He hailed it as an embodiment of ‘Nari Shakti’.
Rahul said in a tweet: “Congratulations to the all-women cockpit crew for completing Air India’s longest flight from San Francisco to Bangalore over the North Pole. You have made the country proud.”
The AI flight, after getting airborne from San Francisco under the command of Captain Aggarwal left the polar region at a speed of 940 kmph as Captain Thanmai, the second pilot, steered the aircraft.
“…Kudos for making Air India proud. We also congratulate passengers of AI176 for being part of this historic moment,” the airline said.
The flight was operated with a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft with a seating capacity of 238 seats. Among them were eight first class seats, 35 business class and 195 economy class configuration besides four cockpit and 12 cabin crew.