Shattering stereotypes in a hangar

Samjhana Sidale does not work as an aircraft technician to prove people wrong, but to build an identity

Samjhana Sidale opening up a dorsal panel of an ATR-72 to inspect its wing spar at the Buddha Air hangar at Kathmandu airport. She is one of few aircraft technicians in a male-dominated profession. All photos: BUDDHA AIR

In Buddha Air’s cavernous hangar at Kathmandu airport, where the scent of aviation fuel mixes with the hum of turboprop engines, Samjhana Sidale straddles the fuselage of an ATR-72 fixing a dorsal panel with a cordless screwdriver.

Nepal’s aviation sector has more and more women pilots and ground crew, but Sidale is one of few female aircraft technicians. She defies stereotypes and navigates the male-dominated profession with unwavering determination.

Sidale’s journey from the hills to hangar began in a tiny village in Sindhuli, where she was raised by a strong and resilient single mother who taught her to aim for the sky with single-minded determination.

Samjhana Sidale

Growing up watching her mother face endless challenges in life was not easy for the young Sidale, but it seared in her a fierce determination to do well in life and take care of her elderly mother.

“My ultimate wish,” she confides, “was to see my mother happy in her old age. I am proud that I have made her proud.”

Sidale has been with Buddha Air’s engineering team for six years now. Her workspace is an array of tools: torque wrenches, winches, clamps and maintenance manuals. She meticulously inspects every aspect of an aircraft’s cabin, ensuring that seats, seatbelts, and safety mechanisms are all in impeccable order.

Although fellow engineers have got used to seeing her in the hangar,  Sidale still encounters raised eyebrows and curious glances when she tells them she maintains aeroplanes for living.

But she does not work to prove anyone wrong, or to be a token woman. She is building an identity. “Normalising women in technology shouldn't require extra effort to change mindsets,” she asserts.

Sidale says she dreams of a day when women in unconventional fields will not be treated as anomalies, but as trailblazers. And with her quiet persistence, Sidale is already rewriting the script.

Samjhana Sidale

As dawn broke this week at Kathmandu airport, Sidale was in her beige overalls, already at her job on the other side of the runway. It is precarious work, balancing herself on top of the plane to peer through an open panel to inspect the spars joining the plane’s wings to the fuselage.

The work demands concentration, and Sidale is focused on carrying out her part of the C-check of an ATR-72, one of 17 in the Buddha Air fleet. Aircraft maintenance involves meticulous attention to every detail, following safety protocols, teamwork, and adherence to manuals.

“I am an essential part of this team, and everyone has to strive for perfection because my work holds great value,” she says.

Samjhana Sidale

Sidale’s journey is one of transformation and empowerment that is no longer extraordinary, since Nepal’s workplace is increasingly feminised as qualified men seek employment overseas.

As a living example for young girls, Sidale shatters stereotypes and shows that women can excel in traditionally male-dominated fields. Her aspiration is clear: to inspire others and prove that barriers can be broken.

Determination and skill know no gender boundaries, and anyone can soar to new heights.