Exclusive || Breaking conventional barriers – An interaction with India’s first Woman Offshore Captain

India might thump its chest and brand itself as a non-gender biased nation, but it took 75-years for the nation to have its first woman offshore captain. While the world was celebrating women’s day on March 8th 2022, Pawan Hans Limited, a government-owned-helicopter service provider introduced India with Captain Mayuri Deshmukh, India’s first-ever woman offshore captain.

Although, the nation has more than 2000-woman pilots, Captain Mayuri has carved her name in the history books when she grabbed her commander’s seat at Juhu airport. It was a bright sunny day when Captain Mayuri donned her uniform and boarded her helicopter for Mumbai High. Shivani Gupta, in candid conversation with Captain Mayuri Deshmukh, discussed her journey, experience and challenges she had throughout. Excerpts of the conversation:

Q] Congratulations on being the first woman offshore-captain in India. Indeed, a proud legacy to carry on your shoulders. A daughter of a retired IAF pilot, makes way to the cockpit flying over the offshores. Kindly let the readers understand what’s your daily routine. Where Is your base, how often you fly and what kind of task you are assigned?

Answer: It was challenging but a rewarding journey. I always dreamt and aspired to become a pilot, but being an offshore captain is cherry on the cake. I started off as a commercial pilot and eventually was promoted to the rank of a Captain for flying onshore. I find myself lucky to be inducted in Offshore.

The life of an offshore pilot is quite hectic and full of responsibilities. Everyone operating has an on and off duty schedule. For a pilot, the day starts at around 8, post which he/she takes up the assignment which is given by the customer. Crew change and production are the two tasks of ONGC which we usually handle. Crew change involves changing of crew and refuelling.

Meanwhile, production involves transporting the men and materials from Mumbai to the offshore platforms and oil rigs. We make close to 30 landings every day. This involves staying at ONGC platforms overnight also. That’s the kind of routine I follow every day.

 Q] You completed your flying training in 2008 in Florida. How did that happen? If you could please share the story behind pursuing the skill In Florida.

Answer: I always wanted to be a helicopter pilot from my childhood and since there were no schools which could train civilians in India, I did a lot of research and chose a school in Florida.

Q] You have rich experience of flying in corporate flights and across the vast and geographically diverse Indian terrain like North East to the islands of Andaman Nicobar to Naxalite holds in Gadchiroli. How’s your experience throughout?

Answer: I had the most adventurous journey throughout. My first experience was with NTPC which operates pan India. We used to start from Mumbai, and fly to places like Guwahati, Shimla Dehradun, Ranchi etc. Later, I went to Inter-Island in Port Blair and Lakshadweep and that provided me with a completely different exposure. To fly in such a beautiful landscape and environment provided me with an enriching experience. We had our own challenges of executing medical evacuations from the islands.

Q] How’s the experience of flying offshore for the first time? Please let us know the valuable contribution of Pawan Hans Limited.  

Answer: I waited for this day for so long. Every day of my training I used to fantasize flying my helicopter offshores and when the day arrived, I was a bit nervous but a lot more excited to board my helicopter and take the first flight. Speaking of Pawan Hans Ltd., it’s a very progressive and supportive institution in the industry. I could not have been luckier than being trained by the company. They provided me everything they could to make me feel comfortable and trained me to become an offshore pilot.

Q] We have learned that your father was also an IAF helicopter pilot. You have shared that he is the inspiration behind your fascination with flying. Could you please let our readers understand what the environment and discussions were like in your family? Kindly shed some light on the importance and significance of family’s support in achieving such demanding goals.

Answer: We are three pilots in the family, my father who flew both, in the Indian Air Force and in the civil, my sister who’s flying for a commercial airline and me. So yes, our discussions most of the time and invariably revolve around flying. My mother who has been beautifully taking care of us and keeping us all grounded has also adapted to the aviation environment at home. That way it’s quite interesting and encouraging. Family support in no matter which field is always the biggest advantage.

Q] Captain, any final message for girls who want to aspire to become offshore pilots.

To become a pilot in the Offshore, one will first have to obtain a Commercial Pilot’s Licence in Helicopters. Proper research has to be done to find out which school abroad should be picked since there are no active flying training schools in India. In the meanwhile, one should try to get the initial formalities required for obtaining CHPL, like eGCA registration, computer number, getting your Class 2 and Class 1 Medical. First requirement for being a pilot in India is to have the qualification of 10+2 Maths and Physics.

There are two aspects of the entire training, one is the theoretical part which includes various examinations and second part is the flying training part. Clearing the written exams before going for flying training gives an edge in terms of time and pressure, it also helps in better understanding of the subject. There are between 3 to 5 subjects that one needs to study thoroughly. Then there’s a Radio Telephony Examination which also needs to be cleared and may take a little time.

Once the examination part is cleared one can go to the school selected and complete the syllabus and eventually obtain a CHPL of that particular country. The next task is to come back and submit all the paperwork for conversion of the license to an Indian CHPL. So that’s the process in short, after which one can apply to companies to get a job. Since there are only a few companies which fly offshore the entry can be a little restricted because one doesn’t have much flying experience. So, we can build up hours by flying onshore and then get into offshore.

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