From the time she first heard about the aviation industry from her significant other, Vanisthaa Shanmuga Nathan knew she was meant for the skies. Before she set out to achieve her aviation dreams however, she had to overcome several glitches.
Vanisthaa, future female pilot, posing next to a Piper Warrior airplane during her training in flying school.
Vanisthaa was 19 years old when she first discovered the wonders of the aviation industry. Her significant other, Kuhan Balakrishnan, who is presently a pilot, introduced her to the world of aircrafts and she was immediately captivated with talks of breath-taking cockpit views, the dynamic challenges of flying, and the idea of becoming a pilot herself. Unfortunately, she had already completed her Foundation in Business programme and had enrolled for her degree programme when she stumbled upon her new found passion. Hesitant to disappoint her parents who had invested in her education then, Vanisthaa decided to put her flying dreams on hold until she completed her degree, which meant delaying her dream to enrol herself into flying school by three more years.
The Ipoh-born local, who moved to Sabah when she was two-months old and where she lived her formative years, is also a daughter to two teachers. Born and raised in a traditional Asian family who had particular expectations about their children, she kept her piloting dreams “mum” from her family for fear that her parents may not be supportive of their daughter pursuing a piloting career.
Still determined to pursue her dream however, Vanisthaa decided the best compromise was to enrol herself into flying school while completing her degree which her parents had invested in. Vanisthaa eventually registered herself with the Sabah Flying Club during the second year of her degree to pick up on piloting skills and eventually learnt to be a professional pilot herself. It was at the Sabah Flying Club that she experienced her first flying lesson and became immediately enthralled with the therapeutic process of flying.
“Every day is a new adventure. I experience a different world when I am flying up in the air,” states Vanisthaa when asked about her flying experiences. Little did she know though, that flying school would present its own set of challenges too.
“There are different types of weather to storm through, different flying regulations I need to be aware of and different navigational routes to learn as we cross borders with every flight,” Vanisthaa explained.
“As a student pilot, I also had to become accustomed to the odd sleeping patterns 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,” states Vanisthaa.
An alumna of INTI College Sabah, Vanisthaa experienced other challenges while pursuing her flying dream.
Air Asia cadet pilot, Vanisthaa Shanmuga Nathan, actively pursuing her flying dreams in the Malaysian Flying Academy, Malacca.
She elaborates, “While in flying school, I was also the President of INTIMA (INTI’s student body) and pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting & Finance concurrently. It was a challenge to juggle and maintain a balance between my academic and personal pursuits, but I eventually learned to strike that balance.”
Vanisthaa’s challenges were worth it in the end when she received news that she would be accepted into Air Asia’s Cadet Pilot program.
“I broke the news to my family after I received the offer and to my relief, they were supportive of my decision to enrol into flying school, seeing that I was about to complete my degree,” explained Vanisthaa when asked about her family’s response.
“Everything fell into place and I was ecstatic when I realised I was closer to achieving my dreams.”
Presently enrolled in Air Asia’s Cadet Pilot program, Vanistha is busier than ever, yet living her dream. She is currently undergoing training in the Malaysian Flying Academy, Malacca, and is actively pursuing whatever it takes to be in the skies. When asked about her experiences in flying school, she expressed that she feels like she’s in the military!
“We have physical training every Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6.30 a.m., and it involves a combination of cardio workouts and jogging. We also have strict sleeping schedules to adhere to, to prevent exhaustion while in training. Despite this, my training experiences instil discipline and cultivates a healthy lifestyle, so I am not complaining.”
As of 2017, the International Society of Women Pilots’ reported that only 3% of the 130,000 pilots globally are female . It has been found that women often face gender stereotyping, less-family friendly flexibility in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, and a lack of female role models to seek encouragement and support from . With these challenges at hand and the personal challenges Vanisthaa has overcome, this fighting spirit has proved though that a fierce determination and perseverance will get any individual through any turbulence.