WOW | Coverstory
I believe I can fly – Priya Adhikari
Priya Adhikari is the first and only female helicopter pilot in Nepal. She worked as a helicopter captain with Air Dynasty for seven years, and is now associated with Shree Airlines for over a year. She is a capable and courageous helicopter pilot who has carried out a number of rescue missions in peaks over 8,000 metres. In this edition of WOW, she shares her experiences as a rescue helicopter pilot.
What was your childhood like?
My mum says that I was the naughtiest among four siblings. I was notorious, never ate on time or gave priority to my studies. However, when I was in the eighth grade, I realised the importance of education. After high school, I did BSC in Environmental Science. Then I went on to get an MBA degree.
What inspired you to choose this profession?
I always wanted to do something in the medical field. I presume that my purpose has always been to save lives which is why I am doing rescue missions now. My love affair with aviation began in 2006. The journey was filled with challenges but my dreams motivated me to reach where I am today. I always enjoyed flying be it as a cabin crew or a pilot. I remember the moment when I went for a joyride as a passenger. The moment the helicopter took off, I was sure that I wanted to fly a helicopter. Also, another reason I chose this profession was because there were no female helicopter pilots in the country; I wanted to be the change.
Why do you think there is no other female helicopter (particularly rescue) pilots in the country?
The youth is still not exposed to fixed-wing helicopter flying and the course itself is expensive. Also, helicopter flying is not like going to the airport in uniform and flying from one place to another. It involves searching remote places like Rolpa and Rukum on the map, landing there, and getting sick passengers onboard.
Have you ever faced any kind of gender discrimination?
I assume gender discrimination exists in every field but it all depends on how you handle it. The aviation sector is not only tough for women but also for men. I faced discrimination only because there was no woman who was flying before me.
Could you share a rescue mission experience?
I recently rescued an Australian girl who was almost collapsing near Janakpur. Another incident that is fresh on my mind is of a man who was lying down in Dhiktel. I witnessed doctors doing their best to save his life but as we couldn’t fly back because of bad weather, he passed away. The next day we got his body to Manamaiju.
How do you prepare yourself while going on a rescue mission?
Rescue mission is all about saving people’s lives, whether either it is in the Himalayas or Terai region, a rescue is a rescue. Compared to lower altitudes, high altitude is more risky and difficult. You have to be very particular and clear about the mission, plan the flight, calculate the fuel, and check the weather of that area. I always make sure to first get a proper briefing from my seniors. Then depending on where I am going, I prepare my bag. If there is a need for diversion, I make sure that I am pre-informed about the nearest airport and where I can get a refuel.
When you plan for any flight you should be mentally prepared; there shouldn’t be any distraction or confusion. Physical challenges are there but you have to do everything by yourself. For instance, if you get stuck somewhere with no help, then only your strong will and confidence will help you survive.
What are the biggest challenges while carrying out a rescue mission in the mountains?
You fly alone, that is challenging itself. In general, the major challenge is the unpredictable weather in the mountains. While flying a helicopter the wind plays a big role, either a high wind or no wind both are not good for flying. You need to be careful and be prepared for any situation. I always say “being a helicopter pilot you are not even allowed to blink your eye”.
What would you like to say to aspiring female pilots in Nepal?
One should do what they are passionate about. There will be problems in any field and there will be some kind of discriminations, but you need to prove your mettle with determination and hard work. It is going to be tough to get into helicopter aviation but be determined to turn your dreams into a reality. I am waiting for ladies to come and join me.
How do you manage time for family and yourself?
You never know who is going to get sick and need help in a difficult terrain or the mountains, so we are always on standby. But I try to have at least one meal with my family in the morning or at night and spend time with them. I am lucky as I live close to the airport. We mostly have one day off in the week which I spend with my family and a few friends. I don’t have many friends as I don’t have much time to go out. I have chosen a career that allows a limited social life but I enjoy the way it is.
What is a truly satisfying about your job?
I am so satisfied with my job that I have the same smile today as I did on my very first flight. Every flight and mission I have carried out in all these years has given me a sense of satisfaction. I love my job!
What do you do for fun?
Beyond flying, I love boxing and yoga.
Favourite holiday destination: Austria
Favourite show: Ellen DeGeneres and Be kind to one another
Last movie you watched: Bohemian Rhapsody
Favourite drink: Long island iced tea or green tea
On a rainy day: I like to snuggle in my bed sipping milk tea and munching on popcorn and binge on TV all day.
Favourite monsoon snack: Mum made pakoras
Text: Rojina Maharjan
Photos: Sanjog Rai
MUA: Shradha Maskey
Special Thanks: Himalayan Mottorad