I do this, because… I must …for nothing less is acceptable!

If I could breathe more, I would
If I could eat more, I would
If I could fly more, hell I definitely would!

I gazed skyward, apprehensive yet unable to snatch my eyes away. The massive shape with lights in the night sky looked ominous; the sound loud and scary.  Alone, on the terrace of my two-story home I watched. On the one hand I wanted to dash downstairs and hide behind my mother’s sari, on the other hand I watched fascinated at this massive shape, zooming by in the night sky with lights illuminated, resplendent. I was 10 years old and that was the first memory I had of viewing an airplane in the sky.

“You have to be the prime minister’s son or really rich to fly airplanes,” was what I heard throughout my childhood. Flying is not for the common man. The only pilot that we knew was then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s son.  I returned daily to watch the airplane, as it made its way to land at the nearby airport, and slowly the fear was replaced by amazement of this man-made creation that flew and soared like the birds.

I devoured any books I could lay my hands on flying at the local British library. Television was just gaining popularity in India and I glued myself to all BBC programs. It was one afternoon while watching a program about airplane crashes on takeoff, that my fate was decided. While the details of the exact program are vague in my mind, that was the precise turning moment in my life. When I silently acknowledged to myself that I wanted to be an Aeronautical Engineer.

Making the decision was easy enough, but attaining it has been a long struggle. There were precisely 5-6 universities that offered an undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering in India at that time. The competition was severe, and the cost of education was beyond my current means. After a failed first attempt, I decided to pursue an engineering degree at a low cost local university and follow on with a master’s degree in aerospace in the United States with innumerable choices and to reach the land of the free.

Four years later, I packed my bags with first semester fees from loans, $900 for expenses and took the flight to the US. This was the first time I was leaving home on my own. Interestingly enough it was midnight of August 15th. Talk about freedom at midnight! A Masters degree and ten years later, I had a job and most importantly a license to fly! There was no turning back. The struggle has been long, but with a little patience, perseverance, dedication and commitment anything and everything was possible.

It’s not easy being a foreign national in the aerospace industry. But living in a country that promotes general aviation, attaining my private pilot license was a matter of money, time and interest. Ultimately it was my interest and involvement in flying that paved the way to my current career in aviation. It is few people who can happily mix business with pleasure. I love that my passion of flying helps and gives me a practical and first hand view of aviation. I currently work in the aviation industry and love every moment of it. The journey has been long and arduous. And totally worth it!

There is always strong resistance to change. Either people are not ready for it or the economy is not. Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is here whether we like it or not. It promises a safer and more efficient system. More importantly it promises a full modernization of the national airspace system incorporating satellite-based navigation improving safety, efficiency and environment. It comes with a price that the user and provider have to share. For without equipage, it has no meaning. With equipage it opens innumerable opportunities. Consider this: with Automated Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipage, pilots are able to fly out in remote areas without radar coverage safely (such as Gulf of Mexico where helicopter operations have benefited immensely from ADS-B ground coverage).

As everything else, change takes time. So too will NextGen. But it is the right direction for us!

Note: This was originally written for the “I do this ” series on No Map, No Guide, No Limits.

3 thoughts on “I do this, because… I must …for nothing less is acceptable!

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