Aviation in Nepal – Overcoming Obstacles

When aviation in Nepal started in the 1950s, training as a pilot was reserved exclusively for men, and while women have proven to be competent pilots in many countries around the world, change in Nepal has been relatively slow in this regard. Of the 205 airport transport pilot licenses issued in Nepal, only four are reportedly held by women, and of the 214 commercial pilots, 24 are female. Nevertheless, there are those who are determined to follow their dream of becoming a pilot, despite the gender inequalities in this sector.

With no training facilities available in Nepal, back in 1979 a Canadian government organization provided twenty-four scholarships for candidates from Nepal to travel to Canada for pilot training. At the time female air traffic controller Prabha Vaidya applied for one of the scholarships, but was declined due to the fact that as the only female on the team there would have been what they termed as “problems with logistics”. Although Prabha Vaidya never fulfilled her dream of becoming a pilot she currently serves as an expert in aviation for Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation and has no doubt that she would have been just as capable as the male candidates had she been given the opportunity.

In recent years, things have slowly started changing for career-minded women in Nepal, and it is becoming more common to see women pilots, and even all female crews on domestic flights. Among those who have pursued this male-dominated career path is Anusha Udas, who says that she was 15 years old when she decided she wanted to be a pilot. Her parents, however, wanted her to study to be a doctor, so she enrolled in a premedical course in preparation for an undergraduate program for a career in medicine. While acknowledging that she could do well in the field of medicine, Anusha Udas soon realized that she did not want to follow this career path. Her father was persuaded to enroll her in a pilot training school in South Africa, putting her in the position of being able to pursue and fulfill her dream of becoming a pilot.

Executive director of Tribhuvan University’s Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Professor Yagya Prasad Adhikari, notes that attitudes leading to gender inequalities have long been part of the country’s social structure, with daughters leaving home with their new husbands, while sons remain at home to take care of their parents in old age. This leads to sons being favored over daughters with regard to education opportunities, which are expensive and often beyond the reach of the average family. Moreover, with no pilot training facilities in Nepal there is the additional expense of travel and accommodation. Anusha Udas battled to overcome obstacles in putting her newly acquired skills to use when she returned to Nepal from South Africa in 2009. But today she is employed by an airline in Nepal and is working toward becoming a captain – offering an example of determination for other Nepali women who choose to follow careers in male dominated fields.