All-women Air India crew makes history flying over North Pole from San Francisco to Bengaluru

Ritu Jha-

The excitement of a long dream coming true was visible among the attendees at the virtual event held on Jan. 9 on the commemoration of the San Francisco -Banglore Sister City relationship and the debut launch of a direct Air-India flight between San Francisco and Bengaluru.

The inaugural flight AI176 departed from San Francisco at 8:30 pm (PST) on Saturday, January 9 and landed at the Kempegowda International Airport at 3:45 am (local time) on Monday, January 11.

This was not only the first-ever nonstop flight between San Francisco and Bengaluru but in fact, the only nonstop service that directly connects South India and the US. Additionally, the flight’s all-women pilot and crew team flew over the North Pole on the world’s longest air route, covering a distance of about 8700 miles.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Ambassador of India to the United States, tweeted, “Women lead the way! Air India all-women team fly on the world’s longest route from San Francisco to Bengaluru over the North Pole.” (@SandhuTaranjit)

Dr TV Nagendra Prasad, Consul General of India in San Francisco, thanked the attendees, saying that there is a great demand and would like to place a special thanks to Air India for taking the initiative of this long non-stop flight between Bengaluru and San Francisco despite serious challenges the aviation industry has been facing. It’s a befitting tribute to the Silicon Valley community, who have ensured that we remain connected while the COVID crises have disrupted every possible aspect of direct interaction.

“Air India deserves special appreciation for their stellar role in ‘Vande Bharat Mission.’” It is in its ninth phase now, and Air India continues to fly thousands of people every day. So far, they have flown four point five million passengers since the announcement of the mission on May 6, 2020.

“From San Francisco alone over 34,000 passengers have been flown by Air India,” Counsel Prasad said. “Consulate is proud to play its role alongside Air India to safety return its people.”

“I am sure this direct flight will be very attractive to the entire west coast. Today’s event also marks the commemoration of Bangalore Sister City and San Francisco, formed in 2009,” he said.

He thanked members of both the cities for their contribution in strengthening the bond between Bengaluru and San Francisco.

“We have miles to go and our efforts should continue to forge the much closer ties in expanding the technological arena on both the sides and in building people to people contact more stronger,” he said.

(Below) BJ Arun with Air India crew.

BJ Arun, TiE Trustee, Bengaluru sister city member told indica News, “Caption Zoya Agarwal, Cpt. Akanksha Sonawane, and their all-female cockpit crew on the Boeing 777-200LR are not only going to make history today but in the process going to inspire millions of Indian women to aspire to greatness.”

Anju Sahni, manager of Air India in San Francisco told indica News that she feels excited to say this is the first flight from US connecting to Southern India. That is one of the key moments where the United States is connecting with South India.

The total passengers onboarded from SFO to BLR were 234.

Air India Captain Zoya Aggarwal, who commanded the flight, said she is looking forward to creating history and this is a dream come true for her during the virtual event on Jan. 9.

“Being one of the world’s longest flights and flying over the North Pole requires a lot of skill and experience. It is very technical and it has many benefits, and this is indeed a dream come true for any professional pilot,” said Aggarwal.

Sharing on women empowerment and all women crew member, she said that she is proud to be a part of the team that is making history and is happy to have a very highly skilled team.

“Air India has also been an equal opportunity employer and I am extremely proud to be an employee of this stellar organization,” she said.

In the cockpit, Captain Zoya will be joined by Captain Thanmai Papagari, Captain Akansha Sonaware, and Captain Shivani Manhas. Also, Captain Nivedita Bhasin, executive director of flight safety.

“I am here to reassure you that the flight that starts today will be absolutely safe and in addition to saving fuel, time, carbon emission, our endeavor is to mitigate all the risk involved,” Bhasin said during the launch event. “This has come into after a year of search, risk analysis, training of the pilots.”

“We are truly honored to be the first airport in the United States to offer nonstop flights to Bangalore,” said Airport Director Ivar C. Satero in San Francisco.

“This service links two great centers of technology and innovation and strengthens the cherished sister city relationship between San Francisco and Bangalore. We thank Air India for their strong commitment to San Francisco since 2015, and for this latest service,” he added.

For the women who are breaking the status quo, praises and congratulations came from all sides.

“Way to go girls! Professional, qualified & confident, the all-women cockpit crew takes off from San Francisco to Bengaluru on @airindiain s flight to fly over the North Pole. Our Nari Shakti achieves a historic first,” Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted.

Captain Zoya Aggarwal is an accomplished pilot with a flying experience of more than 8,000 flying hours. She has command experience in a B-777 aircraft of more than 10 years and more than 2,500 flying hours.

Mark Chandler is the Director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of International Trade and Commerce (Global Engagement). On behalf of San Francisco, London Breed he welcomed the initiative and said it’s a dream come to reality.

He said the sister city initiative was started with Gavin Newsom and today, “we are recognizing that a direct flight that is more important than ever. We salute the captain and crew of Air India.”

Chandler further added that San Francisco is so proud to be part of Bangalore Sister City and proud of Air India.

“On Jan. 9, our city hall in San Francisco will be lit up with the colors of Air India in recognition of this great event,” he said.

Kumar Malavalli, entrepreneur and board member at the Bangalore Sister City, lauded the entire women crew flying through the North Pole taking the longest route in the world.

Malavalli, recalling the sister cities initiative said, “Finally, our dream has come true and the direct flight will bring the two Silicon Valley of the world together and will remove travel hassles.”

Madav Misra, co-chair, and director echoed the above on how the initiative was taken when Gavin Newsom was the mayor of the city of San Francisco and the work that underlined San Francisco’s global preeminence as the center of technology and IT by linking it with most prestigious Silicon Valley of India. The objective was the continuous strengthing of people’s-to-people’s ties between the citizens of the most dynamic of the world.

“It’s quite clear and obvious nothing facilitates more than this direct link..,” Misha said.