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Touching the sky

Vijaya Lucose, the first woman flight instructor, talks about a career with the clouds.

WITH PRIVATE airlines entering the Indian aviation industry, everything from the food served on board to the flight schedules and rates, changed. One also noticed neatly dressed flight stewards and attendants, with improved inter-personnel skills. The credit for this goes to Vijaya Lukose - India's first woman flight safety instructor. She was responsible to create the first training manual and she groomed flight attendants for one of the first private airlines, thus setting a norm that others followed.

In the early Nineties when the Indian skies opened its arms to private airlines, East West Airlines was one of the first to begin its operations. There were no training schools for flight attendants, no manuals, and certainly no women instructors. Ground engineers would train the attendants, and the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) approved these activities.

But how did this all begin?

Vijaya, who had worked with Air India as a stewardess, was asked by East West to train its personnel and that was when training schools actually took shape. Her selection itself was a chance happening as she relates: "After Air India, I went off to the US to complete my masters in Miami University. There I joined Eastern Airlines as a stewardess but they found me over qualified for the job, so asked me to be a Flight Safety Instructor in their training school." After having trained at Boeing and Airbus, Vijaya managed the training school for Eastern Airlines for almost a decade. "Then, in 1992, when I returned to India, the private operators had just started here. It so happened that East West Airlines had purchased their first aircraft from Eastern Airlines and somehow got to know of me." So, that is how she became the first woman flight instructor.

But her career was not without the ups and downs. Vijaya had to go through a test and selection procedure by the DGCA, even though she was qualified by the Federal Aviation Administration in the US. On a personal front too the job demanded her to stay in Mumbai for five days a week, while her husband and children stayed in Bangalore.

Despite the challenges, Vijaya managed the training school single-handedly, and trained and recruited over 300 personnel for East West Airlines.

"It was a challenge because I had to look into the infrastructure, equipment, etc. and no one here knew the ropes. In the US, training schools existed and one just had to go with the flow. Here there were none and I had to start from scratch - right from getting the manuals made, getting them certified, training the attendants, and ensuring they got their certifications. For all the others, who followed, it was much easier as they just needed to ask the East West staff to know the answers. All the hitches were ironed out by us," she says.

Observing a drastic change in the operations of private airlines today, she says: "With Damania, NEPC, East West flew, one could see the healthy competition that existed between them.

Today with just two major private players, there is hardly any choice and the standards seem to be falling. Then, the staff was polite and the service seemed better."

Another thing she fears about India is the lax of security at airports. "If there are any technical failures, there are always standbys to help you.

But, having a highjack on board is the toughest situation you can get into. So airline security has to be beefed up."

Vijaya has also authored a book on how to get into an airline and become successful. "When I was recruiting, I noticed that some of the interviewees were really good but they were just not prepared for it. The book prepares you for what to expect."

Talking of the profession, Vijaya says that being a flight attendant gives one an excellent option to see the world, shop at different places, meet people, plus a good pay packet.

However, in India, one cannot pursue a career after marriage. "It gets frustrating and tiresome after a while. So my advise to the girls out there would be to use their initial years making the money and use it later to do something else."

TINA GARG

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