What Were You Doing at 16? Ayesha Aziz Became India’s Youngest Pilot at That Age


What Were You Doing at 16? Ayesha Aziz Became India’s Youngest Pilot at That Age

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

At the age of 16, most of us are either dealing with a college dilemma, heartbreak, a wave of teenage angst or all of the above. But 16-year-old Ayesha Aziz was adding wings to her dreams as she became the youngest student pilot in India in 2011.

Born in Kashmir, Aziz, now 23, later moved to Mumbai with her family. However, somewhere between catching flights to Srinagar with her mother, a resident of Baramulla district in J&K, a young Ayesha fell in love with the idea of flying away. The frequent air travels to the Valley only further added to her curiosity and obsession with airplanes and pilots. Soon enough, she found herself enrolled at The Bombay Flying Club.

While the news about her young achievement was much celebrated, a few naysayers were less than impressed by “a Muslim girl without hijab” reaching new heights. Her professional pursuit was deemed as “not perfect for a Kashimiri girl,” Ayesha shared in an interview with Times Of India in 2017. But Ayesha Aziz was not one to back down or be discouraged by the sexist words of a few. It was important to her that women weren’t deemed as imperfect for a job just because of their gender. “We have to change our attitude and do justice to girls,” she stated.

Constant support from her family, especially her father Abdul Aziz, a Worli-based businessman, motivated Ayesha’s dreams to become her reality. “I have always believed that knowledge and enquiry are keys to human progress,” Abdul Aziz told TOI. “If my child had a dream which was achievable, I had to be part of the process and see that she realised this dream.”

With the supportive people in her life, Ayesha let her passion and credentials speak for themselves. Aziz graduated in aviation from the Bombay Flying Club in 2016. The following year, at the age of 21, she bagged her commercial pilot’s license.

Her perseverance and determination are both awe-inspiring and courageous.

While preparing for her graduation, she also undertook a two-month space training course at NASA in 2012 where she met her idols Sunita Williams and Jon A McBride. #LifeGoals

At NASA, Ayesha went on to complete her training in Space Shuttle Mission, microgravity, manoeuvring unit, multi-axis training and extra-vehicular activity. In the same year, she also underwent training at Russia’s Sokol airbase to fly a MiG-29 fighter jet.

Aziz also had the privilege to meet Rabia Futehally, the first Indian woman to pilot an aircraft as a private pilot’s license-holder in the 1960s.

Adding another feather to her cap, in January 2018, Aziz was felicitated by the Army Chief and President of India under the “First Ladies” title at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Inspired by the many women she has come to learn about through her love for planes and space, Ayesh Aziz herself is now an inspiration for the next generation. A role model to look up to, she is often called upon to speak to young aspirants at educational institutions.

If you can dare to dream, you can dare to fly and Ayesha Aziz is the embodiment of this belief. May your flight never end!