Flying and inspiring others to fly

“Sometimes it might take us a little longer to get where we want to go, but keep at it and the world is your oyster” is the message Ugyen Dema has for those wanting to pursue a career in aviation

Donning a black pant and a neatly ironed white shirt with four stripes on the shirt over her shoulder, Ugyen Dema, 34, hurriedly makes her way into the plane and then into the cockpit.

This has become a usual routine for Ugyen Dema for almost 12 years now after she joined Bhutan’s national airline, the Drukair, in 2006. However, she has today become Bhutan’s first female airline captain and unquestionably the first woman to break the gender stereotype in the country’s aviation field.

Ugyen Dema, who has been flying with Drukair as the senior first officer, was promoted to the rank of captain in November last year. In 35 years of Drukair’s operation, Ugyen Dema is the sole female airline captain so far.

Right after her promotion, Ugyen Dema flew her first flight on that evening as a captain to Bangkok.

Ugyen Dema grew up in a large family.  The 34-year-old is the youngest among five siblings in the family and is married too.

Talking to Business Bhutan, Ugyen Dema reminisces being allowed to ride bikes and drive at a very young age.

“In fact, I used to drive to school, which wasn’t allowed at that time, when I studied in Lungtenzampa and continued in Yangchenphug. I took science as my higher secondary option and after that I went to a flying school,” she says.

She adds that she had just finished her12th grade and was exploring career options when she had the opportunity to talk to a flight captain, who shared his experiences and was very encouraging.

After the conversation, she says she had made up her mind and that there was no turning back.

She still remembers having a mix feeling of excitement and nervousness at the same time on her first flight.

“It was very thrilling to hold the controls of an aircraft and it was even more unbelievable that I was the one maneuvering it,” she says.

Ugyen Dema adds that she has a lot of memorable moments from getting her command and being able to command.

“The Royal Audience was definitely one of the top ones. On the 8th of March, 2019 on International Women’s Day, being able to command an all female flight was a very proud and exciting moment that I will never forget,” she shared.

“Is it difficult to fly?”, Ugyen Dema says, is the most frequent question that she is asked most of the time.

According to her, the most beautiful part about flying is the beautiful and amazing views that one gets to see from above. “I get to enjoy my breakfast with beautiful sunrises and watch starlit skies. I can never get enough of it,” she says.

 While not only having had made herself proud of her achievements, Ugyen Dema is also an inspiration to those women aspiring for a future in aviation. 

“Sometimes it might take us a little longer to get where we want to go, but keep at it and the world is your oyster” is the message she has for those wanting to pursue a career in aviation.

Though flying in recent times has become highly automated, Ugyen Dema enjoys flying into Paro as it allows them (pilots) to actually “fly”.

“I think anything in life that’s worth having is always challenging; the more the challenge, the more the reward,” she says. Meanwhile, Ugyen Dema is also one of the only two female pilots in the country. Both of them fly for Drukair.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu