“I want the next generation of kids who aspire to become a pilot, to be more aware and focused about the pros and cons of aviation, so that they can face any challenge with determination and an open mind”, Captain Farah Khan Pethe says.
Captain Farah Khan Pethe is a devoted Commercial Airline Pilot, Mentor, Certified Life Transformation Coach and Public Motivational Speaker, and Author of her book: ‘Conquering The Blue Skies-My Journey To Becoming A Pilot’.
Her career in the Indian aviation industry spans over 23 years. Captain Farah not only learned skills required to fly various types of aircrafts, but she also acquired a wealth of knowledge about team management and conflict resolution as well as garnering excellent interpersonal and leadership skills.
Widely recognized in India for her eclectic roles, Captain Farah continues to inspire many communities.
Today, Captain Farah shares her experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic with AeroTime and how with the insight she gained now helps other people to fight stress and reach a right balance in both their professional and personal lives, thereby improving overall wellbeing.
Avionics instead of robotics
In junior college, Capt. Farah was all set to be an electronic engineer when her father put forward to her about a career as a pilot.
He was the inspiration behind her decision to take to the skies, that too in a time when flying was considered a male – centric profession, not what many women and their families thought of.
On encouragement to choose the profession as cockpit crew over engineering, Captain Farah immediately enrolled in a flying academy. Initial days were trying as she had no knowledge of what flying is all about or a mentor to guide her accordingly.
She says: “Initially, I had no clue what aviation [was] all about because I wanted to become an electronic engineer. I have always watched my parents work hard, especially my mother, who sacrificed her career so that her kids could build them.
“As a future electronic engineer, my dream was to build a robot, which could help women with every little housework, so that they can have enough time not only for self-care but also, to pursue their dreams, ambitions, their hobbies, and to spend more quality time with their family.”
She continues: “I remember when I started learning new subjects of aviation, it was getting tougher and tougher for me. Everytime I stumbled, I somehow mustered the courage to get up, dust myself off and move on.
One day, I was sitting alone in my hostel room, crying my heart out, wondering if I was really meant to be a pilot! I didn’t want to disappoint my parents and shatter their dreams! Though I knew all I had to do was to convey it to them. I have always been a person who never gave up easily without putting in my best efforts. So, I told myself that I must try to put in 100% of my effort and get deeper into the subject I was studying before judging and concluding. It wasn‘t easy, but I decided to continue what I started.”
It was indeed a moment of epiphany. From that day, there was no looking back.
She explains, “When I finally got my commercial pilot’s license, I felt a euphoric sense of freedom,as it was certainly well deserved. All the hard work and perseverance had finally paid off. It was the proudest moment for my parents and my family, they were on top of the world and continued to display the same feelings.”
The challenges continued.
In 1996, Captain Farah gained her commercial pilot’s license. To stand out in this highly competitive industry from other newly licensed pilots, Captain Farah opted to pursue higher education. Within a year, Captain Farah’s hard work paid off and Mumbai-based Jet Airways India, which later became one of the largest Indian airlines, offered her a position as a trainee first-officer. Since then, Captain Farah has continued to work for Jet Airways.
Captain Farah’s journey to the Captain’s seat was a tough one, but it taught her a lot.
Aviation is a male-dominated profession so it becomes very challenging for a female pilot to move ahead in her career graph due to few stereotypes. While studying at the flying academy, she realized the true meaning of resilience and that helped her tremendously as an airline pilot too.
Captain Farah became so passionate about flying that she even considered switching to wide-body planes, Airbus -340 and later Boeing -777 but in order to maintain a healthy balance between work and family life, chose to step back so that she can give time to family and friends. Sometimes in life, you need to step back to move ahead and that’s the golden rule to follow.
Deftly juggling kids and work commitments with the help of her family, Capt. Farah continued flying the Boeing 737’s and eventually got promoted to the position of a Trainer.
As shocking as it was to the entire world, In April 2019, Jet Airways ceased operations due to its mounting debt. Captain Farah recalls the devastating experience of the employees. “We knew that there were little troubles with the airline, though every department was working relentlessly,” she admits. “But we didn‘t see it coming in such a big way. It indeed was a big jolt to the aviation industry.”
Captain Farah received numerous offers of employment from other carriers, but she continued to be a part of her company, bearing a torch of hope that Jet Airways would recover soon.
She says: “I had decided that until my airline does not reach performance level, and the government declares that it’s a complete shutdown, and there’s no revival, I would not abandon my hope of Jet Airways. So, I am still a part, an employee of the airline.”
Aviation know-how helps thousands
Just a few months after the Indian carrier ceased operations, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, which made Captain Farah’s employment status far more complicated, making it a daunting experience for the employees ,wondering about the revival of their beloved airline.
Despite the stall in the global aviation market, Captain Farah still managed to engage with valuable activities. She put to good use her knowledge on how to deal with the numerous physical and psychological challenges that flight crew, especially cockpit crew face, including fatigue and stress, using personalised and customised tools even for people outside of the aviation industry.
She says: “After the airline closed operations, I decided to help people. I didn’t want my immense knowledge, interpersonal and management skills, which I gained through the years in aviation, to go in vain.
I started playing a big role when I launched my program, which was dedicated to helping people to better balance their professional and personal life, which in itself is a challenging task, and to achieve high-quality lives. I continued further, because it really gave me a sense of fulfillment.”
The program received widespread interest from local as well as global institutes and universities. As a result, Captain Farah was asked to deliver speeches to students and corporate employees, live and via remote video calls.
As the global pandemic had such an enormous emotional and financial impact on many people in India and across the world, Captain Farah, who has acquired an in-depth knowledge on positive psychology as well, began to receive individual calls from people asking for guidance and advice to deal with depression or mental health issues. She was in awe to know how people literally came out of their miseries just by having a detailed conversation with her. They describe the talks with her as an invigorating, enriching new experience.
Numerous stress management techniques, which cockpit crew self-teach themselves to apply in their professional life, worked effectively outside the aviation field. So, Captain Farah dedicated her time to provide voluntary psychological support to those who needed it the most especially during this unprecedented time of the global pandemic.
She eventually launched her own live talk show on Instagram ‘Farah’s Talk Show On Positive Living’ that created waves of hope for the ones fighting a tough battle.
She says: “Whatever I’ve learned in the last two decades of my career, I’m carrying it forward and now I’m giving it to people. I’ve already lost count of the calls I receive from individuals from all walks of life, time and again.
“I’m still carrying on with the mentorship programs for students who need proper guidance on selecting the right career path in aviation and as a pilot. I‘ve faced enormous struggles, some of them are unimaginable, on my journey to where I am today. So I am continuously putting in efforts to make the path for these kids much easier to follow.
I have seen life very closely and don’t want the future generation to suffer in a similar way. I do receive callbacks and messages from the students who have done the mentorship program, that they are heading in the right direction under my guidance and are very thankful to have a mentor to look up to.”
A message from the Captain:
Despite the temporary pause to her piloting career, Captain Farah admits that she has never thought about quitting aviation.
“Flying an airplane is indeed a cathartic experience.
I’m keeping my license and medical certificate valid,” she says. “But at the same time, I will continue with my journey as a life transformation coach, public motivational speaker and a pilot mentor.
I’m currently quite occupied with many assignments from world wide flight academies and educational institutes. It gives me a sense of pride to be in a position I am today, inspiring all those who need my guidance”
Having experienced numerous ups and downs throughout her life, Captain Farah reveals that she is an optimist, be it in flight or during her daily life. Now, she is trying to spread a similar message to others.
She continues: “As a pilot, I know that we cannot afford to carry our personal issues/worries, or struggles in life with us into the cockpit as we are responsible for the lives of hundreds of passengers on board.
As a crew, we all work together in teams, fostering an environment of high levels of professionalism in the air, where safety is of prime concern.
A person cannot be a prisoner of their past, something that cannot be changed and I believe no matter what adversities we face, never let your struggles outwin you. We must all the time believe that we can handle any obstacle in life, and you will come out a winner.”
She adds: “Believe in yourself, have big dreams, and work hard with fierce determination and tenacity and you will be able to break free from the invisible barriers thereby creating a beautiful life full of wellness and success as your true destiny.”