Becoming a pilot is far from easy, but challenging gender stereotypes and becoming a female aviator is even harder.
This didn't stop Indian pilot Anny Divya from trailblazing her way to the top. Thirty-year-old Divya is now the youngest female commander of a Boeing 777 aircraft in the world.
Divya holds the high position with Air India — the culmination of a childhood dream of flying the skies.
“I always wanted to become a pilot, from my childhood,” Divya tells CNN Travel. “I didn't have anybody around who knew about piloting at that time. I had no guidance “I just wanted to fly.”
Divya was fueled by her passion and determined to succeed. She looked for people who might point her in the right direction. Eventually she was sent an advertisement for flying school by a friend and she applied at the age of 17.
“I got selected,” she recalls — but this marked the beginning of a steep learning curve.
Many of Divya's new coursemates had flying experience — or family who worked in the aviation industry.
For Divya, it was all brand new.
“I had no clue about any aircraft, technology, nothing,” she says. “I'd never had any flying background or anybody to guide me, the whole subject was very new to me.”
On top of this, Divya found there were cultural differences to overcome.
She hails from Vijayawada, a small city in the southeastern part of India. Arriving in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, was a shock.
“I had issues with the language and cultural changes, even the way I would dress was different because I came from a smaller city,” Divya says. “The others were from good cities and had gone to good schools and colleges .I had language barriers, I had cultural barriers.”
It was tough, Divya recalls, but she had a strong work ethic and was committed to succeeding.
“We all have some success stories and failures — but we have to focus on what we need and to keep learning,” she says. “I wanted to become a pilot, that's what I wanted to do. So even though I was not doing OK initially, I was very determined to just do it.”
Divya was also fortunate to have the support of her close-knit family.
“My parents have been very supportive,” she says. “Even though there were financial issues — paying for flying was a lot of money for my parents at the time. It's only with their support that I could do it.”
Perseverance and tenacity ensured Divya went from struggling to succeeding at flying school. She finished her training at 19 and began working for Air India.
“By the time I got my job I had learned a lot in life,” Divya says. “I went to Spain [to train] and I've been doing big international flights for 10 years now.”
Despite a decade of experience, Divya still encounters people who are surprised that she's a female pilot.
“When I go on flights, people keep asking 'Are you a commander?' ” she says. “They're like, 'But she's such a young girl to be flying such a big plane!' “
Divya enjoys every aspect of her high-flying profession.
“I love each part of the job, traveling and wearing the uniform,” she says. “We take off from different airports flying into new airports everyday. It's never monotonous, it's very adventurous.”
The airwoman is already planning the next step on her upward trajectory.
“Right now I want to fly new aircrafts, with more advanced technology,” she says. “I also want to get into teaching, I want to become a trainer.”
Divya is overjoyed that her story might inspire others to follow in her footsteps.
“I'm really happy that people are inspired and they want to achieve their dreams,” she says.
The pilot is also pleased that she's become a role model for young women entering male-dominated fields.
“I want guys, girls, everybody to achieve their dream and if you want to become a pilot you need to have a passion for this,” she says. “Because the sector is such that sometimes the jobs are there, sometimes there are no jobs — you really need to have that passion. You have to have patience.”
Despite her success, Divya remains humble about her career and heady ascent.
“A lot of people work hard,” she says. “It's also opportunities you get, I think I've been placed in the right time and right place. I really wanted to do it, but also the timing was correct — and my airline gave me this opportunity.”