Aviation for Girls

2015

Aviation for Girls is a special annual member publication of Women in Aviation International for Girls in Aviation Day. Articles feature young girls living their aviation dreams, career ideas, and education resources.

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20 AVIATION FOR Girls 2015 made me feel I was doing something wrong. All these things keep adding up. I wanted to breathe freely," she says. Charting a Future Course Fatima decided to return to civilian life, and before discharge applied to the pro- fessional pilot program at FlightSafety Academy (FSA) in Vero Beach, Florida. "It wasn't like I had a big plan," she says, but she'd heard good things about the U.S. She left the PAF in January 2008, and the following month, after a connecting fight from JFK to Palm Beach, she alighted with two large suitcases from a Greyhound bus at a deserted gas station in a dodgy area of Vero Beach. After running out of quarters trying to summon a taxi, she noticed a sign on the pay phone: "In emergency dial 911, free calls only." A cab soon arrived and she was on her way. "The next morning, walking around, I realized, nobody watched me!" She still sounds amazed. "I was a woman alone, but nobody was looking at me like I'm an alien walk- ing without a chaperone. It was the frst time I realized what it's like to walk with no hesitation, to just walk around freely," she says. For Fatima, our normal was mind blowing. "I could go to the grocery store, I could stand up in class and ask questions, I could go in an airplane with a fight instructor!" When she graduated two years later in 2010, Fatima had rat- ings through commercial and certifed fight instructor. With hiring still frozen after the 2008 crash, she enrolled in Avi- ator College of Aeronautical Science and Technology in Fort Pierce, Florida, transferred her electrical engineering degree credits, and in one year earned an associate's degree in aero- nautical science, concurrently serving as a fight instructor at the school. She then returned to FSA as a fight instructor to build hours, and began researching regional airlines to deter- mine the best potential employers before applying for open- ings at select carriers. In 2012, with 1,400 hours, she was hired by ExpressJet. At the time, "I didn't have an address to give them," she says. "Basically, I was homeless." Initially based at Dulles, she lived in crash pads for most of her frst year. But by 2014 she had an apartment, and achieved another goal: attending the In- ternational Women in Aviation Conference. "I used to read about the convention and thought it would be awesome, but I couldn't afford to go," she said. By then the story of Fatima's trailblazing experiences in the PAF had reached former Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and he invited her to join the country's delegation at the Nobel Prize awards. In her address, she told the sever- al hundred dinner guests at Pakistan's embassy, "The fght doesn't stop [with an education], it starts then. I got one of the best educations money can buy, but I still had a very hard time, and did not get an equal opportunity to use it." Fatima also got to meet Malala, of course. "She asked me, 'When you fly, are you scared?' I said, 'I'm not scared, but sometimes it's busy up there, and my heart does start beat- ing a little!'" Despite the former prime minister's approbation, Fatima isn't a hero back home. A profle in the ExpressJet employ- ee newsletter about her Oslo trip and her experiences in the PAF "went viral in Pakistan and got very, very derogatory re- marks," she says. "They say I'm complaining and whining for no reason, and trying to make a bad name for Pakistan." Whatever the reaction, it arises from a culture that can trace its roots back to the Indus River Civilization, considered among the world's frst modern societies, and 4,500 years of history can leave complex legacies. Besides, Fatima has prov- en the power of the indomitable human spirit to overcome shackles of the past. Meanwhile, she's thoroughly enjoying the present. "The best thing I like about my job," she says, "is waking up really early, and it's still dark, and when you start fying, you're up there, it's quiet, and it's the most peaceful thing in the world. You have time to refect, and see how beautiful the earth is." After a moment's refection she adds, "It's amazing." So is the path that led there. ✈ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . James Wynbrandt writes for numerous aviation publications and is the author of A Brief History of Pakistan (Facts On File, 2008) among other books. A multiengine instrument-rated pilot, he has fown his Mooney M20K 252 on assignments throughout North and Central America. "I was a woman alone, but nobody was looking at me like I'm an alien walking without a chaperone." In March 2015 Fatima (third from left) was awarded a Delta Air Lines Boeing 757/767 Type Rating Certificate (later upgraded to a 777 type rating) at the International Women in Aviation Conference. She currently has a conditional job offer from the airline. JOHN RIEDEL

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