Breaking new ground at 30,000 feet

PAKISTAN International Airways' (PIA) Maliha Sami entered her name into the aviation history books last month when she became the first Pakistani woman pilot to operate a scheduled wide-body Airbus A-300 flight on the Karachi-Quetta-Islamabad run.

Maliha Sami, who is one of the first female pilots in Pakistan, has also had the singular distinction of being the first Pakistani woman pilot to operate a scheduled Fokker flight on the Karachi-Panjgur-Turbat-Gwadar sector, about four years ago.

First Officer Maliha Sami worked for the Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan for more than six years, where she flew small, twin-engined aircraft as a navigational co-pilot.

During her tenure at the authority, she attended several refresher and training courses in the United States.

During the 12-week technical training course at PIA'S Training Centre, Maliha scored an average of 80 per cent and secured fourth position in the class.

She has also attended an intensive three-week training programme in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Maliha comes from a conservative Muslim family in Quetta, Baluchistan.

''I had to struggle and fight for my rights . . . for my independence . . . for equal opportunities,'' she said.

''I am the only girl in a family of five boys and, believe me, it took some convincing.

''Initially, it wasn't easy. But, later, my family was supportive and now they are thrilled that I have stuck it out and achieved my ambitious goals.'' With her eyes are set on acquiring even greater heights, Maliha takes great pride in her achievements.

She said that operating a wide-bodied aircraft, equipped with the most sophisticated technology, had given a new dimension to the thrill of flying.