Hyderabad old city's First woman commercial pilot, Syeda Salva Fatima's journey from taking to the skies in a two-seater Cessna to navigating global air traffic on an Airbus 320 to reaching 550 flying hours was a rollercoaster ride filled with success and struggles. 34-year-old Fatima is the daughter of a bakery employee who dared to dream big despite growing up in a poverty-stricken household in Moghalpura, where piped drinking water is still an unfulfilled need for residents.
Fatima is among the few Muslim women in India to hold a commercial pilot's license. She held on to her dreams despite conservative social norms and her family's financial constraints.
Who is Syeda Salva Fatima?
Her father, Syed Ashfaq Ahmed, affectionately calls her the "miracle girl," and rightfully so. Fatima was on the verge of dropping out due to financial constraints when she was studying at Neo School Aizza, Malakpet. However, her principal, Alifia Hussain, sponsored her education for two years.
Fatima, being the eldest of the four siblings, was again on the verge of quitting her education when she was pursuing her intermediate course at St. Ann’s junior college, Mehdipatnam. Luckily, her botany professor, Sangeetha, promised to pay her fees when she was standing in the fee defaulter’s queue.
It's been a decade since Fatima first soared into the sky on a Cessna Skyhawk at the Telangana Aviation Academy. She is currently a first officer with a top private airline. She flies the Airbus 320, a narrow-body variation of the Boeing 737. Fatima is gearing up for flying with the imposing A380 fleet.
Despite the glamorous connotations of exotic destinations, gourmet cuisine, and well-dressed passengers, Fatima remains a down-to-earth person despite literally flying 30,000 feet above the ground. "I was always fascinated by the sky. I wanted to become a pilot but wasn’t even able to afford a plane ticket. But my first flight was not from a passenger seat but from the cockpit," said Fatima with a humble smile.
Although Fatima has never overshot the runway or hit a hard landing, she admits that touchdowns are the toughest part of a pilot’s job, especially in unpleasant weather. Her biggest challenge now is balancing her career and personal life. She is a mother of two, the youngest being a six-month-old baby girl.
Flying is a serious profession; don't take your worries beyond the cockpit door. Every time this message echoes in her mind, it transforms her into a strong aviator. "My parents, husband, and in-laws are extremely supportive, which is why I’m able to live my dream," she said.
She also added that she never had to face gender or religious discrimination at work. "The hijab that I wear while flying was gifted to me by my airline. There’s no bias," said Fatima.
While she cherishes all successes, her flight to success was not without hindrances. "God willing, I was never alone in my journey. There were so many people who helped me on the way." She added.
A prominent old-city journalist and philanthropist financed her period at the aviation academy in 2007. The KCR-led Telangana government passed an order offering Rs. 35 lakhs in scholarships in 2015 for her multi-engine endorsement and DGCA Tupe rating. That made her eligible to fly an Airbus or Boeing.
After graduating from the foreign aviation academies in New Zealand and Bahrain, she bagged a pilot's licence and landed a job with a top airline. "My elder daughter Maryam Fatima Shakaib is a blessing, as I got the government scholarship right after her birth." Said Fatima.
My current priorities are educating both my daughters and building our house in Hyderabad. I will work hard to ensure my kids don’t face the struggles that I endured. I will never leave the old city for posh locations like Jubilee Hills or Banjara Hills because this is where I belonged and achieved," Fatima said.
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