For airborne valleyites, this Kashmiri Pandit is a brother in the cockpit.
BEFORE his daughter, Tanvi Raina, became the first Kashmiri woman to earn the prized commercial pilot license, Kapil Raina’s skill to navigate through sketchy skies and roaring clouds earned him the title of ‘King of Clouds’ awarded by Dr Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
“It’s been donkey’s years and I cannot remember when Dr Saab gave me the title, but I received it because I used to volunteer to fly passengers in and out of Srinagar during adverse weather conditions,” the seasoned king recalled while speaking to Kashmir Observer.
Born and raised in Srinagar, Kapil Raina (57) came from a family of fair reputation. His father, Jawaharlal Raina, owned and operated a transport company out of the city which he was meant to join but enterprising with a penchant for adventure, young Kapil wanted to spread his wings further than the limits of road-based transport.
He had his dadi as his rock, who supported him to chase his ambitions.
At 23, he applied for the commercial pilot license (CPL) and cleared all tests to claim his shot in the skies.
In 1998, he was inducted into Indian Airlines, now known as Air India.
Since then, Kapil Raina has led an illustrious career spanning 30 years as a commercial pilot.
He has travelled across the globe and has over 22,500 flying hours to his credit. His approach towards his job has always made him a stand-out, as the former chief minister also called him the ‘Pride of Kashmir’ paying tribute to his services to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
In his early years, when he was elected as the President of the Indian Commercial Pilot Association, Kapil Raina sought ways to leverage the power and responsibilities bestowed upon him by the position to the benefit of local Kashmiris.
Identifying that Kashmiris frequently travelled to Medina/Jeddah for a pilgrimage to Mecca, and that the absence of a direct flight to and from Saudi Arabia was burdensome for many, Kapil Raina negotiated with the management of Indian Airlines to begin flights connecting Kashmir and Saudi Arabia during 2009.
He successfully spearheaded the mission and was able to start direct flights to Medina and Jeddah, for the first time from Srinagar.
“I have always had a lot of empathy for my people. Even during storms or foggy conditions, no matter how late it was at night, I would opt to fly to help delayed Kashmiri passengers. The route that I started from Srinagar became known as the ‘Hajj flight’ amongst Kashmiris, who are known to have benefitted tremendously by that operation,” he stated matter-of-factly.
This initiative has been the most prominent feather in Raina’s cap for a long time.
The Hajj flight operation was kickstarted by flying a modest aircraft to voyage people to Medina but it quickly upgraded to using a Boeing 777, one of the largest airliners, for transportation.
Kashmiri Muslims who had to make a pit stop at New Delhi, were able to save travel time and money due to this Kashmiri Pandit’s proactive leadership.
Despite being Delhi-based, Kapil Raina does not like being called a migrant.
After studying at Burnhall and DAV schools, he moved to Delhi in 1984 with his family.
According to him, he never migrated from Kashmir and has two homes of his own in the valley that he is very fond of.
“I’m proud of being Kashmiri,” the pilot said. “The conflicts and wars ravaging us have never affected my relationship with locals. I have had wonderful relationships with everyone who worked or lived around us in Srinagar and my family’s business was instrumental in maintaining that.”
As a concerned citizen, he thinks about the future of his homeland quite often.
He has been trying to catch the Indian government’s attention towards the potential of developing an aviation academy in the valley since 2001.
“Every time the government changes at the central level I write them a letter proposing the establishment of an aviation academy or university in Srinagar but I am afraid my letters are delivered to the trash can,” he stated.
The pilot believes that youngsters from J&K have the talent to pursue a career in aviation but are deprived of resources and facilities to train for the same.
On his part, Kapil Raina has mentored countless Kashmiris in their journey to becoming commercial pilots, including a shawl hawker and hence asserts that the potential must not go wasted.
“With an aviation university in the region, young Kashmiris can undergo cabin crew training, aircraft engine maintenance training, commercial pilot training, to seek employment and growth. We have the space and the resources, however, all of it needs to be mobilised. An academy of this nature can create employment and also prepare others for better opportunities around the world,” he explained.
But he’s yet to receive a response to his decades-long campaign.
Still employed with Air India, currently as a Deputy General Manager (DGM) of Operations and Store, Kapil Raina is a brother to his passengers.
Greeting the guests on his flight to Srinagar with a fluent ‘As-salamu alaykum’ he begins all his trips around his homeland on this warm note most of the times.
The pilot holds the home of his childhood close to his heart and dreams of a strong future for its current children.
“For that, we need to focus on building our technical skills and knowledge as a people,” he concludes with hope.
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