Appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle (c). Edward Guthmann, Special to The Chronicle, Monday Nov. 9, 2009




Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic in 1932. During World War II, more than 1,000 women pilots joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots. And yet, women pilots are still distinctly in the minority.

According to FAA statistics from December 2007, only 6.17 percent of commercial pilots and 6.06 percent of all pilots are women.

Malvika Matharoo, 24, is Earhart’s heir. A native of Punjab, India, she grew up in the Middle Eastern nation Oman. Matharoo studied aviation at the University of North Dakota and moved to California in December 2007. She lives in Petaluma and works for North Coast Air in Santa Rosa.

The film “Amelia,” starring Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart, is playing in Bay Area theaters.

I am the first pilot in all the generations of my family. So there really wasn’t anybody who influenced me. I would always have dreams where I was flying – like I was a superhero – so I knew I had to do something about it. As soon as I started flying at the University of North Dakota, I said, “This is it! I like this, I really do.”

We flew all year round in North Dakota. I’ve even flown in temperatures of minus 45 degrees with wind chill. It wasn’t bad, actually.

What do I like about flying? It’s the joy and the adrenalin that you get from experiencing something so beautiful and phenomenal. It’s almost unexplainable.

As a pilot, your preparation starts 24 hours in advance of a flight: getting a good night’s sleep, eating right, checking the weather and runway conditions.

If you’re going to a new airport you need to look at the airport diagram; study radio frequencies, runway lengths and directions; plan ahead which runway you might use by looking at the forecasted winds; look at charts to get an idea of the terrain around the airport.

The most important thing is to always be vigilant and familiar with your surrounding area. Because when you’re flying, you need to always ask this one question: “If my engine quits right now where am I going to land?”

I’m a flight instructor at North Coast Air and my duties are to guide students and teach them how to fly. Help them get their licenses and ratings. A rating is part of our pilot certificate that states the privileges and limitations – basically what a pilot can and cannot do.

We fly the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, which is a four-seat, single-engine plane, and the Cessna 152, a two-seat, single-engine plane. The cost and length of time to get a private pilot’s license depends on the student: how fast they learn and how motivated they are.

I’m very happy where I am now but I would definitely love to fly corporate in the near future. I’ve always dreamed of flying with a company like NetJets, which has smaller business jets – the Gulfstreams or Falcons.

A corporate pilot also has a more flexible schedule than a commercial pilot. It’s very hard as a commercial pilot to be there for your family.

I just started a program called “Take to the Sky,” with North Coast Air and Valley of the Moon Teen Center in Sonoma. It’s a flight program where I’m trying to encourage young women to pursue their dreams, hopefully in aviation. To say, “You can do it. I’ve done it.”

I’ve come across a lot of teenagers who are, like, “No, I can’t do this because my parents don’t want me to,” or “I’m just not smart enough.”

I’ve always wanted to be a role model and motivate young teens to follow their dreams. If I can bring a change in somebody’s life, that would be the best feeling ever.

Read more: click here