‘Flying has made me a better leader’

Shailesh Joshi, Chief Technology Officer, Godrej Industries Limited, on achieving his life-long dream—flying—and the lessons it has taught him. By Shweta Gandhi

Shailesh Joshi had just completed his Std 12 examinations when he expressed his desire to become a pilot. His family’s financial situation didn’t permit him to become one, so his father urged him to take up engineering. Over the years, even as Shailesh Joshi rose up the corporate ladder, he held on to his dream of flying. So in 2014, when he discovered he could learn to fly at the Bombay Flying Club, he didn’t waste any time signing up. Finances were not a problem anymore.

“I started learning in June 2014,” Shailesh says. “The training was only on the weekends, making it very convenient. The first six months we trained on ground; we revisited our geography lessons from school, learned about meteorology—clouds, latitude, longitude, time zones, weather conditions, lightning—while also delving into radio telephony, which taught us about the different communication patterns between ground control and the aircraft.”

Shailesh chose to train for a private license, for which he first had to clear a DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) pilot’s license exam. Only then was he allowed to fly to train himself. The training requires the person to be up in the air for 40 hours, which can be spread out anywhere between 40 days and 4 years. Shailesh still has 22 more hours to go, though he’s now allowed to fly solo. After the 40 hours are done, Shaliesh will receive his private pilot license from the Bombay Flying Club.

Recalling the first time he flew, Shailesh says, “The excitement of looking at the earth from a distance of 5,000-6,000 feet was so great. It made me feel like a bird soaring in the sky looking down.”

“We train in Dhule, near Nashik, because that area doesn’t see a lot of air traffic,” he says. “We can go up till 14,000 feet and all the training is done in only one type of aircraft—Cessana 172.” But given how far it is from Mumbai (where he stays) Shailesh finds it difficult to make the trip. “In the last six to eight months, I have only been to Dhule for a couple of weekends.” This does tend to hinder progress as you can forget what you’ve learnt. But Shailesh remains unperturbed.

Commercial pilots can let the instruments fly the plane if they wish. But private pilots are trained to not rely on the instruments. “We are encouraged to use visual flying, which means you have to look at your directions and see where you’re flying,” Shailesh explains. “That has made me a keen observer, improved my listening skills, made me more alert and more confident.”

While flying, pilots are expected to constantly stay in touch with Air Traffic Control. “Bombay Flying Club holds the training at Dhule as there aren’t a lot of commercial aircrafts flying above it. So even if trainees make a directional mistake it does not immediately become a safety hazard.  So we can fly in any direction as long as we have clearance from ground control. But that is not the case with commercial pilots who have to stick to specific corridors in the sky not unlike the highways on the road.”

“Conceptually, flying an aircraft is like driving a car. You put your seatbelt on, insert the key into the ignition, and you’re good to go.” However, there are some key differences. “You don’t have roads in the sky to tell you if you’re flying in the right direction or not, and you can’t even stop and ask anyone! Once, my instructor gave me directions and I got completely lost. Thankfully I was not alone; my instructor was sitting next to me!” This makes it all the more important to understand the terrain and fly right.

Shailesh emphasises that flying requires a lot of discpline as there are protocols to be followed—from an order for checks and tests to asking permission from ground control before making any kind of move. “Everything is about rules. We cannot argue. We have to get it right. There is no other option,” he says, adding, “Flying has made me a disciplined man.”

Shailesh sees parallels between flying a plane and heading an IT department. “Your company depends on you for IT, so you can’t mess anything up. Similarly, when you’re flying you have to be aware of the different problems that may crop up—sudden clouds, turbulence, lightening—and there are passengers depending on you. The IT industry is always working under pressure, and the art of flying has taught me how to maintain my cool.”

Being a hobby pilot who can fly anywhere at anytime, Shailesh looks forward to hopping onto a plane and flying to Goa or Lonavala for a fun day outing. “Flying isn’t as expensive as everyone thinks. Just like how you can hire a car, you can hire a private plane. It costs Rs 12,000 for 30 minutes from the Bombay Flying Club and then you can fly anywhere!” 

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