First Among Equals

Four decades ago, Deborah Lawrie became Australia’s first female airline pilot after triumphing in a gruelling, year-long legal battle with Reg Ansett. She talks to Adam Thorn about the case that took her to the cockpit – and its legacy today

Deborah Lawrie during her first day of line training

It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed the career of Deborah Lawrie – Australia’s first female airliner pilot, the oldest woman in the cockpit for a major global carrier and the immovable object who grounded the career of industry titan Sir Reginald Ansett – that the manner of her demise at Tigerair still rankles. “They did it rather much by stealth,” she says intently. 

“They started by saying they were going to close down the bases one by one. Sydney was going to shut before Brisbane, but Melbourne would continue to operate. A week after that announcement, they closed the whole airline. It came as a shock to everyone.” It was long before the new owners, Bain, rescued the airline from administration and while Paul Scurrah was still CEO. “He made the decision,” she says. “He said something and did something else.” 

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