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Air India Just Made History With an All-Woman Pilot Crew Flying Across the World

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Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) regularly face gender-based discrimination. Achieving gender equality in all industries is key to achieving the United Nations Global Goal 5 and ending extreme poverty. You can join us and take action on this issue here.

An all-women pilot team has changed the game for India’s aviation industry.

The group of four women completed the longest non-stop commercial flight ever operated by an Indian national airline from South India to the US between Bengaluru and San Francisco on Monday, according to CNN. Air India’s flight 176, a Boeing 777, marked the first time an all-women pilots team flew over the North Pole and the route also saved 10 metric tons of fuel.

The Air India cockpit crew members — Captain Zoya Aggarwal, Captain Akansha Sonaware, Captain Thanmei Papagari, and Captain Shivani Manhas — covered more than 8,600 miles in 17 hours. They took a mandatory break before flying back to New Delhi.

Flying over the North Pole called for extra preparation to account for weather, solar radiation, and airport availability. Aggarwal spent more than a year gearing up for the journey.

“We are India's daughters who were given the opportunity to make this historic flight," she said.

Aggarwal has been a pilot for more than 10 years, but when she first graduated college she had a hard time finding a job as airlines were not hiring women pilots. Her parents were not initially supportive of her dreams to become a pilot and she opted to teach young aspiring pilots instead.

Women have long been shut out of the aviation industry around the world. Worldwide, only 5% of women are pilots yet almost 80% of flight attendants are women. Gender inequality in aviation is part of a larger lack of representation in science with women accounting for less than 30% of the world’s researchers. 

India is ahead of the curve, however, and 12% of the country’s pilots are women, the highest percentage in the world. 

Papagari is hopeful that Flight 176 will open even more doors for women in the field.

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"[This flight] will create more opportunities for women," she told CNN. "The idea of seeing aviation as a male-dominated field is reducing. We are being seen as pilots, there is no differentiation."