Captain Zoya has a message for International Women’s Day - that dreams do not have a gender.  

AeroTime spoke to the Air India captain and UN spokesperson for generation equality to hear about her life, career and how she is inspiring children to follow their dreams. The interview forms part of AeroTime’s one-year Women in Aviation campaign celebrations and also marks Captain’s Zoya’s official appointment to the AeroTime Global Advisory Board.  

Captain Zoya knew as an eight-year girl that she wanted to touch the stars and saw piloting an aircraft as her way to achieve that.  

“It's up to us, as parents, as individuals to create that awareness with our children, to empower them with any dream they want to achieve, because dreams do not have a gender,” Captain Zoya tells AeroTime chief executive Richard Stephenson in an exclusive interview.  

“Whatever they want to achieve or become, nothing has a gender, all we have to do is be there and support the children because we as parents will be the biggest support system. And that is a message that I want to spread all across the world to create an equal future of tomorrow.” 

Zoya says it’s up to adults to change their outlook too and drop ideas of certain jobs and roles being done by certain genders. “Whenever we have children who are born to us, when we see a boy or a girl, we have to see that any boy can do anything and a girl can do anything, it's an equal world.” 

Zoya struggled to get the support she sought from her family and had to work hard to get them to support her dreams. To prove how serious she was, she took on a science degree and aviation studies at the same time. 

“What I would really like to say is whatever you set your mind to, I think, God and the universe make that happen. If you want it badly, it'll happen. You just have to want it badly,” Zoya explains. 

Northern Lights 

From those beginnings, Air India pilot Zoya has made aviation history, becoming the youngest female captain to fly the Boeing 777 and then being part of an all-female flight crew to fly over the North Pole in 2021 on one of the world’s longest flight routes from San Francisco to Bengaluru. 

Zoya believes she may also have broken the record for most passenger announcements during that North Pole flight, because she was so keen to share with her passengers what she was seeing from the flight deck.  

“It's not something that we do every day, fly over the North Pole and see the Aurora Borealis. I can't even begin to describe the Northern Lights, I mean, it was so amazing!” Zoya recalls.  

 It’s all about the teamwork 

Indian airlines have the highest proportion of female pilots in the world according to data from the International Society of Women Airline pilots, standing at 12.4%, against a global average of just under 6%.   

“I'm truly blessed to be a part of the organization which has seen women and men and treat them equally and give them equal opportunities,” Zoya says of Air India. 

For Captain Zoya, it’s the teamwork that counts, whether dealing with onboard medical emergencies, or helping to inspire others.  

“I think I'm just a tiny drop in the ocean. At the end of the day, whether you're a leader, or whether you're whoever, we do things together, because together, we do things better,” she says. 

Recovery and sustainability 

As the aviation industry recovers from COVID-19, Captain Zoya believes we need to change attitudes and become more positive.  

“Last year has been particularly difficult for all of us. I think there has been a lot of negativity and we need to, you know, look ahead, be positive. Focus on our goals and dreams and believe in ourselves because I think in order to achieve anything in life, you have to know what you want,” she declares.  

Captain Zoya says she is seeing the regular hustle and bustle return to airports and she believes the aviation industry will be back to pre-crisis levels soon.  

“Thanks to our vaccinations, things are going to a place where they used to be and hopefully, we should have our world back on its feet so long as we all stay responsible.” 

There is also much focus on how to make aviation more sustainable as it emerges from the pandemic. Captain Zoya says it’s all about little steps, that if you can save 10 tons of fuel per flight, then the savings you can get per year will really add up. 

“I think it's up to every single individual, to ensure we do our bit, and even the smallest of ways to cut down the carbon footprint to leave behind a sustainable future for our generations to come,” Zoya says. “If we don't do our bit, there will be no future for the planet Earth. 

For her work, Zoya has already received an AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award for her dedication to duty, her inspirational approach and her support for the next generation of dreamers. After being appointed to the AeroTime Global Advisory Board, AeroTime looks forward to working with Zoya in the future on our Women in Aviation campaign and other initiatives.