Captain Zoya Agarwal, an Indian Woman Pilot Captain and commander who has flown for Air India since 2004
Bharat Ki Beti and a role model for today’s youth
Captain Zoya is a name that’s synonymous with valor, patriotism and courage. Popularly known as #bharatkibeti, Captain Zoya Aggarwal is a renowned Aviator with several accolades to her credit.
Professionally she is an Indian commercial pilot and commander who has flown for Air India since 2004.
Recognising her extraordinary fervor to excel, in 2006, Times of India highlighted her as “a rising female aviator of India”.
Since then her career as an Aviator has been nothing short of exemplary. In 2013 she became the youngest Indian woman pilot to fly a Boeing-777.
In 2015 she garnered praise for her bold and timely decision to turn back a New York bound flight after a passenger complained of breathlessness.
The crucial emergency landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, saved the passenger’s life.
In March 2020, in the peak of the Covid 19 pandemic, Captain Zoya served as a frontline volunteer and co-piloted the first repatriation flight to India.
Zoya Agarwal was also a team leader of the Government’s Vande Bharat Mission to evacuate Indians from 12 countries during the pandemic.
2021 was yet another defining year for Captain Zoya. She was a source of pride to all Indians when she made aviation history for successfully steering a four-member cockpit team and all-female crew on India’s longest non-stop commercial flight from San Francisco to Bengaluru.
The feat made her the first Indian female pilot to fly over the North Pole, covering a record-breaking distance of approximately 16,000km and flying non-stop for 17 hours.
Zoya Agarwal shares, “On 9th January 2021, I became the first woman in the world to fly across opposite poles.” After successfully completing the flight, Zoya Agarwal and other crew members were welcomed at the Bengaluru Airport with banners and applause from the Air India team.
Not only did she make the Nation proud with her achievement, but was also globally recognized with a place of honor at San Francisco’s SFO Aviation Museum.
Another proud achievement was in 2021, when The United Nations chose Captain Zoya as its Spokesperson for Generation Equality, and UN Women flagged off International Youth Day with her, the first time ever a female pilot from Air India was represented on its platform.
A strong advocate for women’s rights in India, she urges every young girl to follow her dreams. She reminisces,“ In the 90s, growing up as a girl in a middle class family meant that you weren’t allowed to dream beyond your means.
Still, I’d look at the planes in the sky & wonder, ‘Maybe if I was flying one of those planes, I could touch the stars. I want to tell every girl child and woman to continue dreaming irrespective of the environment. Please dream and give all your hard work and dedication. Do not give up!”
Captain Zoya Agarwal is a true believer of breaking the chain of IMPOSSIBLE to I’M POSSIBLE. Her talks on channels such as Ted/TedX, BBC, CNN, Forbes are a source of inspiration not only to aspiring female pilots and the youth, but to anyone who dares to dream and finds themselves facing self- doubts, that they can spread their wings and turn their dreams into a reality.
Hailing from a middle class family, Captain Zoya’s dream of becoming a pilot was received with a lukewarm response from her parents.
So after completing high school, Captain Zoya pursued two full-time courses for three years. During the first half of her day, she focussed on a Science Degree at St Stephen’s College and then dedicated the latter half of the day to aviation classes.
“I remember studying even under the streetlights to complete assignments when there were power cuts.” After she topped her Aviation college, her parents agreed to enroll her for the pilot course so she could pursue her dreams.
In 2004, she was selected as one of the 7 candidates amongst 3000 applicants to fly for Air India. At that time she was only the fifth female pilot to fly for the Airline.
Awards, Honors & Accolades:
Over the years , Captain Zoya has been felicitated by several organizations and earned a list of titles in her awards quiver. Here’s listing a few:
- Pride of the nation warrior award by World Association of Woman Warriors (WAOW)
- Aerotime Aviation Achievement Award by Aerotime
- Award for Record Breaking Pilot & Pride Of India By The Association Of Indians In America, New York.
- Outstanding Achievement In Aviation award by Rudy Cuzzetto, a member of provincial parliament for Mississauga-Lakeshore
- Spokesperson for United Nations Women for Generation Equality Forum
- United Nations Youth Ambassador on International Youth Day 2021
- Was mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the Nation as a “national pride”
- Ministry of Culture in India honored as being a “Legend Of India”
- Director and part of the Global Advisory Board for Aero time Aviation (Forbes equivalent for aviation)
- Passport Ambassador for India’s Ministry of External Affairs
- Received honors from Canadian, French, Indian & Italian professional aviation organizations
- Iconic Women’s Achiever Award and Youth Icon Award by International Inner Wheel
- Recognized by Air India for dedication, excellence in flying skills and exceptional professionalism (2015, 2018, 2021)
- Recognized by Handicap Council of India for work supporting people with special needs
- Recognized by Indian Women Pilots Association for motivating and providing financial support to young women
- Global Spa Women Inspire Award
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