A fierce determination and perseverance will get an individual through any turbulence.
Just ask Vanisthaa Shanmuga Nathan, who had always dreamt of becoming a pilot. After overcoming a few glitches, the 23-year-old is well on her way to realising her aviation dreams.
When she was 19, her pilot boyfriend Kuhan Balakrishnan introduced her to the world of aircraft. Vanisthaa was immediately captivated with talk of breathtaking cockpit views, the dynamic challenges of flying and the idea of becoming a pilot herself.
However, she had already completed her Foundation in Business programme and enrolled for her degree programme at the time. Unwilling to disappoint her parents who had invested in her education, Vanisthaa decided to put her flying dreams on hold until she had completed her degree. This meant delaying her dream to enrol herself into flying school for three years.
The Ipoh-born, who moved to Sabah when she was two months old and lived there during her formative years, is a daughter of two teachers. Born and raised in a traditional Asian family who had particular expectations about their children, she kept her piloting dreams to herself for fear that her parents may not be supportive.
The best compromise was for Vanisthaa to enrol in a flying school while completing her degree. So she registered with the Sabah Flying Club during the second year of her degree. There, she had her first flying lesson, and found it enthralling.
“When I am up in the air, I feel free,” enthused Vanisthaa. “All my problems seem small when I see the vast land below. I also feel extremely happy because it’s a different view we have from the skies – every day is a new adventure!”
Little did she know, though, that flying school would present its own set of challenges. “There are different types of weather to go through, different flying regulations I need to be aware of, and different navigational routes to learn as we cross borders, with every flight,” said Vanisthaa.
“As a student pilot, I also had to become accustomed to the odd sleeping patterns that pilots experience. Pilots travel through different time zones and are more prone to jet lag. Ensuring we have sufficient rest, however, is crucial to flying, hence juggling between the night schedules and my daily routine was a challenge,” added Vanisthaa.
An alumna of Inti College Sabah, Vanisthaa also experienced other challenges while pursuing her flying dream.
“I was also the president of Intima (Inti’s student body) while pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance concurrently. It was a challenge to juggle and maintain a balance between my academic and personal pursuits, but I eventually learned to strike a balance.”
Vanisthaa’s challenges were worth it when, in the end, she was accepted into AirAsia’s Cadet Pilot programme, which started in May.
“It is difficult to say when I will graduate because it is heavily dependent on the weather conditions throughout the course of the cadet programme. Typically, a cadet programme lasts between 18 and 24 months.”
When it comes to obstacles, Vanisthaa said: “These included maintaining my self-confidence throughout the programme. It is easy to feel insecure as an aspiring female pilot in a male-dominated industry, so I reminded myself that I am capable.
“The other challenge was breaking the news to my parents and financing my aviation dream. I was hesitant, not knowing how my parents would react but I really wanted to convey my passion to them. When I told them, they responded positively and even offered financial support for flying school.
“Everything fell into place and I was ecstatic when I realised I was closer to achieving my dreams.”
Vanisthaa is now busier than ever, undergoing training in the Malaysian Flying Academy, Melaka. When asked about her experiences in flying school, she said that she feels like she’s in the military!
“We have physical training every Tuesday and Thursday at 6.30am, and it involves a combination of cardio workout and jogging. We also have strict sleeping schedules to adhere to, to prevent exhaustion while training. This instils discipline and (helps me) cultivate a healthy lifestyle, so I am not complaining.”
She and her boyfriend Kuhan collect miniature planes together, as a hobby. “I recently purchased a New Zealand miniature aircraft for him on his birthday, and he bought me a KLM Airlines miniature aircraft. We do this to remind ourselves that the world is our oyster and there’s no stopping us in achieving the best for ourselves.”
When it comes to role models, Vanisthaa names her parents and, not surprisingly, Amelia Earhart. “Being the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, she inspired me to continue doing what I do.
“I truly admire her courage in defying gender stereotypes, especially during (her) time when women were expected to be homemakers.”