Nivedita Bhasin The Youngest Woman Pilot To Command A Commercial Jet

Nivedita Bhasin: The Youngest Woman Pilot To Command A Commercial Jet

Success Stories Women

In the skies above her school in Delhi, a young Nivedita Bhasin watched aeroplanes fly daily, which ignited in her, a dream to become a pilot one day.  In a time when female aviators were a rarity, if not entirely unheard of, she dared to dream beyond societal constraints. When she was only 15 years old, she joined the Delhi Gliding Club and subsequently enrolled in a flying school in Patna.

Even though everyone around her reminded her that flying was not something women usually did, Nivedita remained devoted and faced these challenges with determination. When Nivedita talks about her journey, she says, “When you want to do something so badly, you never think, “How are you going to achieve it?” Her incredible journey in aviation spans more than four decades, where she was committed to breaking the idea that women couldn’t be successful in this field.

From flying gliders to piloting the enormous Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other planes in Air India, Nivedita has excelled constantly during her 37-year airline career. In 1985, she was the co-pilot of the first all-women crew on a flight from Calcutta to Silchar on a 44-seat Fokker Friendship F27 turboprop aircraft. Additionally, in 1989, she became the world’s youngest female commercial airline captain to fly a Boeing 737. In 2011, Nivedita participated in a dangerous mission to rescue Indian nationals trapped in Libya during its civil war. Through her piloting career, she has amassed over 22,000 flying hours.

Nivedita talks about the three Ds, determination, dedication and discipline, which made her successful. “Keep these three Ds in mind. It will carry you through your life no matter what you want to do,” says Nivedita.

Challenges Faced By Nivedita Bhasin

Nivedita Bhasin

Flying schools in India come with a hefty price tag. After her father left a high-paying executive marketing job and decided to become an entrepreneur, her family went through financial struggles. Bhasin realized that unless she could secure a government grant or scholarship, her dream of becoming a pilot would be unattainable.

A beloved uncle of hers applied for government funding on her behalf at a flight academy in Patna, without her knowledge. Finally, she landed the coveted scholarship, but with it, she encountered discrimination that spanned over the years. She was the only female trainee pilot in the class of fifty students, out of which 47 were men, and two women had quit the flying club. 

It was a tough time for Nivedita, but that motivated her to study harder and therefore, she received faster flying hours than her classmates. She earned her pilot’s license before she turned nineteen, and Indian Airlines hired her a year later in 1984. Initially, Nivedita felt isolated and alone as several of her male colleagues subjected her to sexist and hostile comments. Captains would mock and ask her who cooks at home and how she would manage such a demanding career and have children.

However, she tuned out their thoughts and focused on achieving the highest professional standards. By 1997, she had achieved her personal goal of flying the biggest plane of Indian Airlines which was at that time, the Airbus A300. Subsequently, she flew the Airbus A330 and the Dreamliner Boeing 787, later serving as a trainer for all of them. As she progressed in her career, the frosty reception from her male colleagues turned to grudging respect and then to full acceptance.

Nivedita had kept a low profile all her life but now embraces her position as a role model for all the upcoming generations of girls and women who want to fly high and reach the skies. Talking about her role as a mentor, she says, “What we’ve received in life, I think we have to share it with the next generation of women to take it forward.”

Nivedita Bhasin with her family

Surprisingly, everyone in Nivedita’s family, along with her husband are pilots. Her daughter is the captain of IndiGo Airlines A320 and is also married to a Captain of the same airline. Nivedita’s son, Rohan Bhasin, is a Boeing B777 Captain for Air India. Her father-in-law, the late Jaidev Bhasin, was among the first seven pilots in the country to become a commander in 1954 – making flying a truly family affair.

Taking An Online Course

During the Pandemic, Nivedita had free time, so she enrolled in the University of South California’s Aviation Safety and Security Program. Thomas Anthony, USC Aviation Safety and Security Program director and the Federal Aviation Administration ex-investigator, became her mentor and taught her aviation safety and management systems. Ultimately, she fell in love with the program and took human factors in aviation safety and safety management for remotely piloted aircraft and aircraft accident investigation courses. Doing these courses enabled her to slip into the position of Air India’s Chief of Safety with ease.

After 37 years of active Airline flying, she retired as the Flight Safety Executive Director and Chief of Flight Safety at Air India in July 2021. With more than 22,000 flight hours flown, her passion for flying makes her the perfect mentor for young aspiring Pilots. Her days are busy volunteering with various Women Pilots organisations, motivating girls and boys to follow their dreams. 

“Where there is a dream, there is a way”.

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