Air India’s all-woman flight a runaway success

MUMBAI: Flight AI-141 that took off from Mumbai airport early Monday, flying over 11 countries on its way to New York, almost made history — all women pilots, despatchers, check-in staff and pre-flight doctors. In fact, all that came between it and the record books was a Supreme Court ruling making it mandatory for flight on which alcohol is served to have male pursers on board.

But for two flight pursers, the 15-hour non-stop flight between Mumbai and New York would have made history with an all-woman crew. The record proved elusive as the cabin crew comprised 12 women and two men. Still, the women were all gung-ho as they walked into the airport terminal to operate the flight, celebrating International Women’s Day in their own way.

Hours before the two commanders — Capt Rashmi Miranda and Capt Sunita Narula — and two first officers — Swati Rawal and Neha Kulkarni — boarded the Boeing 777-200 LR aircraft, flight despatcher Nandita Deshpade sat down to work out the flight plan for the route. “This time of the year, aircrafts encounter headwinds while flying West,” said Capt Miranda. For Deshpande, who did the flight planning, the six-hour job meant calculating the minimum fuel route keeping in mind weather conditions and other factors like navigation aids enroute, overflying permits etc.

The time to cover 13,000 km between Mumbai and New York worked out to 15 hours 56 minutes with 30 knots headwinds burning fuel at the rate of 7,600 kg/hr. “The flight plan for the all-woman cockpit crew took the aircraft on altitudes ranging from 37,000-39,000 feet over Pakistan, Iran, Ukraine, Georgia, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, UK, Norway, Iceland and then four hours over the Atlantic ocean to reach Canada and then the US,” said Deshpande.

Air India has 96 women pilots on its rolls, while Indian has 40, making the total the largest in the country. Women pilots in airlines in India constitute about 12% of the total workforce, way higher than the global average of 6%.

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