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All-female crew makes history with India’s longest commercial flight ever

Emerald Pellot
·2-min read

An all-women Air India cockpit crew just flew over the North Pole. 

The women were led by Captain Zoya Aggarwal and set a national record when they flew India’s first non-stop flight from San Francisco to Bengaluru and over the North Pole on Jan. 11, 2021.

The 16,000-kilometer distance on Flight AI176 is the longest commercial trip made by an Indian airline. 

“Polar flight, on a proven basis, has been done earlier, but this is the first time we have an all-women crew,” Aggarwal told India Today. “The ‘Bharat Ki Betis’ are flying all the way from Silicon Valley of the US to the Silicon Valley of India.” 

Aggarwal was joined by her co-pilot Captain Thanmei Papagari and officers Captian Akansha Sonaware and Captain Shivani Manhas in the cockpit. The women had to prepare for the North Pole’s difficult weather, high solar radiation levels and the fact that there are fewer airports in the region to make emergency landings. 

While there are other lengthy flights that soar above the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, Aggarwal believes the North Pole is something special. 

“This flight is particularly different because you get to fly over the North Pole! How many people have seen the North Pole,” Aggarwal told India Today. “I consider myself super fortunate to command the airplane and to view the North Pole from [the] top and come on the other side! It’s going to be a new chapter in aviation history.”

Aggarwal flew a fully-booked Boeing 777-200LR with a seating capacity of 238. The captain has 8,000 flying overs and has flown in command for eight years. She and the rest of the crew hope the record-breaking flight will encourage more women to become pilots. 

“[This flight] will create more opportunities for women,” Papagari told CNN. “The idea of seeing aviation as a male-dominated field is reducing. We are being seen as pilots, there is no differentiation.”

If you enjoyed this story, check out this all-female mariachi band challenging gender norms.

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