The sight of planes flying up above, as a young boy growing up in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, instilled a strong desire in Jangam Vageesh to become a pilot. Not only were his dreams fulfilled, at the age of 21, he became the youngest licence holder from India to fly a Boeing 787, on May 1, 2018.
Relating his experiences which led to where he finds himself today, Vageesh says that the going was not all that easy in the beginning. “The process of becoming a pilot is an expensive one, so I put it on the back burner and started considering other professions.” He adds: “After completing my Intermediate, I planned to study engineering in the United Kingdom and got admission in London South Bank University.” However, that idea was shelved by his parents since Vageesh was aged just 17 at the time and they were also worried about his vegetarian upbringing. “They gave me the choice to study whatever I wanted to in India till I reach 20. As I always wanted to do something unique, I decided to become a pilot.”
Vageesh enrolled for the pilot training course at a flight training academy in Shamshabad in July 2014. As the minimum age to acquire a licence was 18, he had to undergo two years of training, which included seven exams and completion of 200 hours of flight time.
Aged 19, he got his commercial pilot licence to fly the Diamond DA40 and DA42 aircraft, in 2016. And he had to move to Greece to attend the ground classes of Boeing 787, which were followed by practical classes. “I went to an elite flying school in the United Arab Emirates in October 2017, where I got trained till December and that is when I flew the Boeing 787 for the first time in my life, in November that year.”
Vageesh further says that since he holds a licence to fly Boeing 787, he is not willing to fly an aircraft below that level. “In our country, only Air India has Boeing 787, and as it’s a government-owned enterprise. I am waiting for their job openings to be announced. I was even offered a job by a leading airlines to fly Boeing 737, but as I have got the licence to fly 787, I didn’t want to fly 737, so I refused that offer. I am yet to fly a Boeing 787 in India. I am eagerly awaiting that offer and super excited about it.”
One of the most defining moments of Vageesh’s life came during a training session in February 2016 when he was flying to Ballari from Hyderabad. It was a near-death experience.
“I was all set to take off from Hyderabad, and according to the weather reports, it was going to be a clear day. However, after I took off, cumulonimbus clouds developed, and I was unable to divert my flight because I lost contact with Air Traffic Control (ATC), Hyderabad.
“I was in no position to take a call to divert my flight because it could lead to a crash with another aircraft, which might have been flying at a different height. Then I told myself, my life is in danger, but I shouldn’t change the range (of height) of my flight until I get clearance from ATC, otherwise it could be dangerous for others.”
Vageesh further explains that luckily for him, a plane carrying AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu took off from Tirupati and came into his range.
He then immediately contacted the pilots of that flight and requested them to get the clearance for his flight from Hyderabad station. “I got the clearance from Hyderabad ATC, and was told to fly higher (at 10,000 feet) than my current height (8000 feet), after which I reached Ballari safely.”
06/03/19 Paturi Rajasekhar/Times of India