Shukriya Khanum – Pakistan’s first female commercial pilot dies

Published: May 16, 2017
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A photo of Shukriya Khanum. PHOTO COURTESY BBC

A photo of Shukriya Khanum. PHOTO COURTESY BBC

Shukriya Khanum, who was the first Pakistani woman to obtain a commercial pilot’s licence, has died of cancer in Lahore at the age of 82, BBC Urdu reported on Monday.

She qualified as a pilot in 1959, straight after graduating from the Government College. However, it took 30 years before another woman followed in her footsteps.

When Shukriya Khanum joined Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), female pilots were not permitted to fly commercial planes.

She therefore accepted the job of flight instructor at PIA’s training centre, where she taught young cadets. She also took flying enthusiasts on joy rides at Karachi Flying Club.

Two other women, Ayesha Rabia and Maliha Sami, faced restrictions after taking the PIA pilot test in 1980 during the military government of Gen Ziaul Haq.

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But after Zia died in 1989, PIA called them and invited to attend formal pilot training.

“For nine years I waited, because rules did not allow women to fly,” Ms Rabia told the BBC. Ms Sami flew her first flight as first officer in 1990, the day before Ms Rabia flew her first.

In 2005, Ms Rabia became the first female Pakistani captain of a commercial scheduled flight. A year later, she flew the first Pakistani flight with an all-female crew.

Ms Rabia remembers the day in 1989 when she went to see Shukriya Khanum in Karachi.

She was happy to see her and offered up some advice, telling her “to focus on professionalism and never let anybody think that because you are a woman you cannot do that”.

In one of Shukriya Khanum’s famous photos, she is seen standing next to a plane with Qaiser Ansari, who was working as a flight instructor at a flying club in Rawalpindi.

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