New Delhi: Syed Ashfaq Ahmed, a daily wage bakery worker in Hyderabad, had never imagined his 26-year-old daughter would become a pilot. But thanks to her determination and will power, Syeda Salva Fatima is now Captain Syeda Salva Fatima, and effectively one of the few Muslim women in India to hold the commercial pilot’s licence.

Fatima never allowed her abject poverty to come an obstacle on her way to success and the story of how she accomplished this feat can serve as an example for many.

While in school, Fatima would collect articles published in newspapers about aviation and pore over photos of aircrafts for hours. After completing pre-university, she took admission in an institute which offered free coaching for the Engineering, Agriculture and Medical Common Entrance Test (EAMCET). At the inaugural ceremony of the batch, the instructor of the institute asked Fatima, “What do you like to become?”

Fatima says she's still hopeful of funding her training.Fatima says she's still hopeful of funding her training.

Fatima says she’s still hopeful of funding her training.

Her prompt reply surprised everyone, including chief guest Zahid Ali Khan – the editor of Urdu daily Siasat: “Pilot.” An impressed Khan asked to meet him later.

“After listening to my story, Zahid Ali Khan sir offered me financial support to undergo the pilot training. I could not believe my ears; it was like a dream come true. I fall short of words to thank him,” Fatima told Firstpost over the telephone.

She underwent five years of  rigorous training at Andhra Pradesh Aviation Academy and got her Commercial Pilot’s License, Private Pilot’s License and Flight Radio Telephone Operator License. She has logged 200 hours of flying on a Cessna 152 and 172, including 123 hours of solo flight.

But she still has to cross one more milestone to achieve her dream. She is required to undergo Type Rating, an additional training apart from the initial licence and aircraft class training, on a specific aircraft like a Boeing or Airbus to be able to fly any aircraft. The training costs around Rs 30-32 lakh, which she cannot even think of paying for.

However, she has not given up and has written to Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju for help.

“I am awaiting for the minister’s response. Let’s hope for the best,” she added.

When asked what inspired her to choose the male-dominated aviation sector, she replied, “I wanted to do something different and entering this industry was my passion.”

Asked if she had ever imagined that she would reach this far, Fatima said, “It was my dream but I had never thought that it would come true because of my financial condition. My father has to struggle to make two ends meet.”

Zahid Ali Khan, who encouraged Fatima to go ahead and extended financial help, told Firstpost, “I was duty bound to help the ambitious girl as she had selected a sector in which Muslim representation is almost negligible. Muslim men and women are far less educationally accomplished than their non-Muslim counterparts.”

“Less than 41 percent of the country’s 67 million Muslim females were literate, compared to 46 percent of India’s 430 million non-Muslim women. Given the disheartening figures, if someone gathers courage to do something exemplary, he or she must be backed with open heart,” he said

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Flying high: How Syeda Fatima defied the odds to get a pilot’s licence