Women in the aviation industry are mostly associated with the glamour jobs — as a crew member or at the front desk. A few have made a mark as pilots. “But there are so many other kinds of job opportunities for women in aviation,” says Radha Bhatia, Chairperson of the New Delhi-based Bird Group.
She would know. In 1988, Bhatia started the Bird Academy, the educational arm of the Bird Group that was founded by her husband 17 years earlier. The academy offers diploma and certificate courses in travel and tourism, airfares and ticketing, passenger and baggage handling, air safety and emergency handling, dangerous goods regulations and consultant and foundation courses certified by IATA, a trade association of world airlines.
The courses range from about a month to a year in duration and the academy trains roughly 3,000 students every year, most of them fresh out of high school.
The classroom sessions are held in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kochi. Faculty members also travel to cities where there are a sizeable number of applicants. “Our students earn up to ₹25,000 a month once they finish any of the courses,” Bhatia said. “We don’t have a placement cell but companies contact us when they need trained staff. Our students have worked with Amex, Makemytrip, Yatra.com, Delhi Tourism and airlines like Jet Airways, Air France and ground handling companies like Celebi. We know our students are good because they are often poached by competitors for higher salaries.”
Bhatia believes the aviation industry has room for more women. She started the India chapter of Women in Aviation International (WAI) in 2016, to motivate young girls to take aviation as the preferred career choice. The WAI is an Ohio-based non-profit that encourages women to enter the aviation business.
“The response has been overwhelming so far,” Bhatia said. In its first year, the initiative met with school girls in seventh and eight grades interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The biggest obstacle, Bhatia said, is the lack of information that young girls have about the industry.
“So we inform them about job opportunities that pursuing STEM subjects would provide in aviation. We co-ordinated with NGOs and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to conduct these programmes. This year, we met with students at 10 locations through AAI. Many airport directors have asked us to do such programmes again.”
Data on the gender split for jobs in aviation is hard to come by, says Bhatia. The almost equal gender split you see in the customer-facing jobs in aviation — as cabin crew or ground staff — almost disappears and becomes entirely male-dominated in the more technical behind-the-scenes jobs. Through the Women in Aviation International Initiative, Bhatia has identified 30 job profiles that aviation offers women. This could be as an aircraft maintenance engineer, flight dispatcher, and aviation meteorologist, an aviation doctor, psychologist or attorney or as security officers.
At Bird Academy itself, the gender ratio is equally split in terms of the number of students they take in every year. As the Bird Group itself expands outside just aviation and supporting technology to luxury retail and hospitality, Bhatia wants her academy to offer courses that caters to the overlap of skills in all of these different sectors.
“For instance, I want someone who works at a hotel reception to know how to re-schedule a flight ticket. We’re developing courses that offer these particular skills.”
Bhatia started her career as a teacher at the Sophia Girls School in Meerut, before joining her husband’s expanding travel business. In a manner of speaking, starting Bird Academy brought things back a full circle for her. Bhatia initially trained the company’s employees in its BPO services for airline ticketing. Later, she expanded the academy’s training capabilities to a wider array of subjects.
Gurugram-based Vishal Taneja says his 45-day-long airport management course at Bird Academy last year helped him find better work opportunities. After a stint at Bird Worldwide Flight Services (BWFS), which offers third-party services in ground handling, customer management and baggage handling, the 24-year-old joined Jet Airways as part of its ground staff team for a higher salary. “Jet has a policy that after one year, you can apply for another job within the airline. I want to be part of cabin crew now.”
While a BBA from Delhi University didn’t land him a job, Abhishek Sharma has got four job offers since completing the two-month-long airport services at Bird Academy. The course, which cost him ₹20,000, trained him in baggage handling and ended with a job offer by the BWFS. Later, he moved to Jet Airways, turned down a cabin crew offer from GoAir and recently joined Jet Airways as a senior customer services executive and brings home ₹22,000 a month.