India has a long history of strong women in the cockpit. It was a red-letter day when Urmila K. Parikh became the first Indian woman to get a private pilot’s licence in 1932. Some 25 years later, Durba Banerjee became the first female pilot of Indian Airlines. This would not have happened without breaking through gender stereotypes and stigmas. When Durba first applied with the then Central Aviation Ministry to become a commercial pilot, she had been offered the post of a flight attendant instead.
A flight from Kolkata to Silchar in 1985 was the world’s first with an all-women crew, and Air India celebrated International Women’s Day in 2017 when Captain Kshamata Bajpai commanded the first round-the-world flight with an all-women cockpit and cabin crew. International Women’s Day 2018 saw a number of airlines around the globe demonstrate the role women have on the flight deck, with Ethiopian Airlines, SpiceJet, British Airways, Air Canada, Royal Jordanian, Brussels Airlines and Emirates amongst those running all-female crew flights. Although these were special flights, they demonstrate to women and girls around the world the career possibilities in the industry.
Commercial aviation in India is witnessing a phenomenal boom, with more women passionately striving to become a part of the airline industry. A fifth of students enrolling for a commercial flying licence in India are women, and of 10,000 commercial pilots in India some 1,200 are women across all Indian airlines, including Air India, Vistara, SpiceJet, Jet Airways and GoAir. At 12%, this is considerably above the 5.5% global average worldwide and amongst the highest number of women commercial pilots in the world.