Capt. Durba Banerjee, The First Indian Woman Commercial Pilot

Capt. Durba Banerjee has been so many firsts- here's another of her firsts: she flew the Tornado A-200, Airbus 300 and Boeing 737- WHAT?

The sky is no limit—at least not for Capt. Durba Banerjee—the first female commercial pilot of India.

Capt. Durba Banerjee broke all the stereotypes and rose to the air, literally. Capt. Banerjee was the first generation (female) pilot in her house, but it didn’t stop her from flying towards her dreams.

Ever since she was a kid, Durba liked watching the planes. She watched them soar in the sky, taking away her breath and burning up the fire of passion she would later make her career.

Life in the 1950s was not up for grabs for passionate women. With the country just becoming independent India, we had to learn a lot about how to work after 190 years of invasion—so working women weren’t given much of a priority.

However, it is impressive and vastly comforting to read how Capt. Durba Banerjee changed the concept of ‘women at work’ and excelled in an entirely male-dominated field. 

Durba Baneerjee was the first in so many things

Durba Banerjee

While women in a field that required scientific training seem common and celebrated today, it sure wasn’t back in the 50s- but Capt. Durba Banerjee dreamt, dreamt as she should and soared up high in the air.

Durba was the first in so many things. She was the first woman pilot of Okinawa Airlines in Japan in 1959. But this was not the point of satiety for our Capt. Durba Banerjee because she was destined to achieve more and more.

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In 1966, she became the first woman pilot of Indian Airlines, based off Calcutta.

The first Indian Woman Commercial Pilot

As mentioned on the People Pill, it is said that when she approached Humayun Kabir, the Central Aviation Minister, to apply for the position of commercial pilot—he mansplained her into offering her the job of a flight attendant.

I am not even surprised over this. Even if this is a claim, I am sure Capt. Durba Banerjee had to deal with her share of mansplaining male chauvinists- continuously trying to explain her science.

Capt. Banerjee was all about flying and achieving her limitless dreams. In 1966, she became the caption of the F27- a Dutch aircraft. Capt. Durba has been so many firsts—here’s another of her firsts: she flew the Tornado A-200Airbus 300 and Boeing 737 – WHAT?

Durba Banerjee’s phenomenal number of flying hours

Captain Durba Banerjee

I am awestruck by Capt. Durba, but feel sad that she went on to live so many years without the recognition she deserves.

In 1988, Capt. Durba retired as a pilot, but she did leave a legacy behind. I find it super exciting that our icon Capt. Banerjee didn’t leave with just being the first at flying planes—she even had a phenomenal number of flying hours, and that was- 18,500 hours! Truly, she is phenomenal!

When I look at her, after all these years- I see a proud woman, breaking the stereotypes and defying the conventional gender norms that over drove the country for a long time. I see a small Durba, looking over the sky, seeing planes fly over her head, closing her eyes and thinking of her being the one flying that flight.

I see a dreamer- because I am one, and she is one.


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Image credit: Twitter

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About the Author

Pranjali Hasotkar

I am a journalism student with a penchant for writing about women and social issues. I am an intersectional feminist and an aspiring journalist. I identify as she/her. read more...

38 Posts | 55,980 Views

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