While I was gone recently, a very motivated young man, Vinay Bhaskara, asked if I might want him to write up a guest post about Air India. When I said I would love one, I had no idea he would be so detailed and really re-construct the history of the airline. Things kept popping up and I wasn’t able to share his multi-part story until now.

Bhaskara is a teen-aged aviation enthusiast and blogger. His blog is hosted at Flyertalk (The Gate). He can be found on Twitter (@TheGateVinay), as well as Facebook and Linkedin. His podcast on Asian aviation should also be launching soon. Here is his story on Air India in his own words:

Air India's first aircraft was the de Havilland Puss Moth.

Air India's first aircraft was the de Havilland Puss Moth.

The Air India Story- Part 1

Air India is one of the most confounding airlines in the world today. Once India’s flag-bearer to the world; the aging carrier has slowly disintegrated into the mess currently grabbing headlines today. Such staple routes as Tokyo, Frankfurt, and London just aren’t making money for the carrier; a far cry from the days when they brought the Indian flag to every inhabited continent on the globe except South America. But in order to understand its current problems; it would be helpful to take a look back into the past.

The Early Days

Air India (and its former domestic partner Indian Airlines) has its roots in the vision of J.R.D Tata; India’s first true business scion. Tata was a director at Tata Sons Limited; one of Asia’s largest industrial companies. In July of 1932, he created an aviation department at the company; and began the first un-subsidized (ie: no mail contract from the British) domestic air service in India after receiving a license for through flights between Madras (Chennai) and Karachi via Bombay (Mumbai) on October 15th, 1932. The route, which also stopped in the commercial city of Ahmedabad gave South India an important link into the airline network in Bombay. The initial fleet consisted of 2 Puss Moths; a 2-3 seat propeller aircraft. Such was the success of the carrier that they added an additional Fox Moth; a larger cousin of the Puss Moth that could carry 3-4 passengers, within a year.

By 1935, a technical stop in Bellary had been replaced by a passenger stop in the more important Southern city of Hyderabad and overall frequency had doubled from once weekly to twice. New routes were also on the radar of the rapidly growing carrier; November of 1936 saw service being expanded from Bombay to Trivandrum via Goa using a 5 seat Miles Merlin, which Tata had used to replace the Puss Moths. By 1937 a route to Delhi (via Indore, Bhopal, and Gwalior) had been started and in 1938 the route to Madras was extended to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Tata Airlines’ business got a big boost during this period from a mail contract with the British Empire Air Mail Scheme, under which all First Class Letters between Karachi and Colombo (and all points served in between) were carried by Tata Airlines at ordinary postage rates (on a pound-mileage basis). By 1939; Tata Airlines was operating a fleet of 8 passenger D.H.89s and smaller types from the American manufacturer Waco; in that same year- the carrier bought two 12 seat D.H.86s from Mac.Robertson-Miller Airlines in Australia. But due to the outbreak of World War 2; J.R.D Tata was unable to take Tata Airlines to greater heights.

TATA's route map during the summer of 1935. Photo from Wikipedia.

TATA's time table during the summer of 1935. Photo from Wikipedia.

During World War 2; the growth in new routes slowed for Tata Airlines. But because the War was relatively docile in India; demand on existing routes continued to grow. They upgraded their fleet constantly; eventually jumping up to a fleet of 3 Stinson Model As, as well as multiple 14 seat Douglas DC-2s. This new lift helped Tata spread its wings to Bangalore, Nagpur, Calcutta, and even Baghdad, Iraq by June of 1945 (nearing the end of the war).

Following the end of the war; Tata Airlines switched its emergency (ie: for war) route permits with actual route rights from the government. All routes were confirmed by June; and Tata was given access to war surpluses; resulting in a large fleet of at least 12 Douglas DC-3s; an aircraft which formed much of the fleet of Asian carriers in the 1950s. On July 29, 1946; Tata took his company public; and the carrier was re-named Air India Limited. In April of 1947; Air India received the first of 4 35-seat Vickers Vikings; for use on the larger routes in their network. As Air India continued to grow; it became a government owned corporation in March of 1948; later that month they received their first Lockheed Constellation; a large turboprop.

Running in parallel to the expansion of Tata Airlines were a few other Indian domestic carriers; such as Indian National Airways (INA) and Air Services of India (ASI); both of which had domestic networks rivaling that of Air India Ltd. Smaller private players abounded as well; Bharat Airways’ network extended all of the way to Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore. As the government searched actively for ways to strengthen the Indian aviation industry; the nationalistic undercurrents in Indian politics called for a single national domestic airline. They got their wish on June 15th, 1953 when all Indian domestic carriers; as well as the domestic arm of Air India Ltd. were merged to form the Indian Airlines Corporation. The resulting carrier had a fleet of over 100 aircraft; ¾ of which were DC-3s, as well as a dozen each of the larger DC-4s and Vickers Vikings. Air India Ltd. was re-organized as Air India International (AII- later shortened to Air India), and given exclusive rights (amongst Indian carriers) to carry long-haul international traffic.

*From this point on; the stories of Air India and Indian Airlines will be told in parallel.

The Expansion

Before losing its domestic operations to Indian Airlines, Air India had also pursued its own international expansion. Soon after receiving the first Constellation, Air India introduced service to London; by way of Cairo and Geneva. Despite strong initial demand however, Tata was cautious, and he limited Air India’s initial international expansion to London and Nairobi (via Aden, Yemen) with its large ethnic population of Indian businessmen. But progress was not to be held back. The London services quickly jumped in frequency to 3 flights per week and new European points were added quickly to the London route; Rome, Paris, and Dusseldorf. Though Air India grappled with the time savings of the new Comets flown by BOAC (they even ordered a pair); they fought back with superb on-board service. Air India was especially beloved for the humorous little booklets it handed out to every passenger; with such useful information as how to (not) steal cutlery and a reminder not to stuff children in seat-back pockets.

An Air India Super Constellation (VT-DJX) Photo by: J. Roger Bentley

An Air India Super Constellation (VT-DJX) Photo by: J. Roger Bentley

Despite the lack of jet service to compete with BOAC; marginal improvements came with Lockheed’s L-1049 Super Constellations; which were placed on the London route in 1954. By 1960; the London route included Beirut, Zurich, and Frankfurt (which had replaced Dusseldorf. But in addition to an expansion of European service; Air India was turning its eyes eastward; to the Orient. Within a few years of full nationalization (1953 in parallel with Indian Airlines); Air India had opened routes to Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. The Singapore route was quickly extended to Australia (Sydney by way of Darwin); picking up traffic stops in Kuala Lampur and Jakarta along the way. Because of the violence in Egypt during the Suez crisis of 1956; Air India also developed an alternative route to Europe (Moscow by way of Tashkent); which could be extended to Western Europe if necessary. As the 50s drew to a close; Air India had grown from infancy into a full-fledged international carrier; with wide-ranging operations in Europe and Asia, as well as important toeholds in Africa and Australia. It was the latter that allowed Air India to take advantage of a lucrative business opportunity in the late 1950s; it leveraged its important position on the Kangaroo route to launch a revenue-sharing agreement with Qantas and BOAC (sort of a pre-precursor to today’s JVs) on service between Europe and Australia.

Meanwhile; Indian Airlines had been quietly dealing with problems of its own; mainly related to the fact that 8 airlines; with differing operations, had been squished into 1. Especially problematic was the redundancy in jobs; the airline had 2-3 times as many employees as necessary- resulting in a bureaucracy of staggering inefficiency. The attrition process would take many years and was never fully completed (see Air India’s current situation). Furthermore; the fleet of DC-3s was maintained haphazardly; with quality in certain shops shockingly bad (to put it mildly). This in and of itself was a more fundamental problem; as a carrier with a reputation for being unsafe could not be expected to gain flying passengers from the nation. When coupled with a bevy of unsafe airports (unpaved runways etc.), at least 17 resultant accidents involving DC-3s took place in the first 3 years of Indian Airlines. But while Indian Airlines grappled with these problems; they also moved to modernize the fleet. Five Vickers Viscount 768s were ordered for the main trunk lines and 8 de Havilland 114 Herons were introduced onto feeder routes.

During the 1950s; Indian Airlines set its network into a pattern that would be followed till the 1990s. The major trunk lines (especially those connecting “The Diamond”- India’s 4 largest cities; Bombay, Calcutta (Kolkata), Delhi, and Madras) were operated with the largest aircraft. Initially, they were served with Vickers Vikings; but trunk routes quickly shifted to pressurized Viscounts in 1957. Secondary routes were served initially with DC-3s; though even these routes could be differentiated into two tiers (Tier 1: mid-sized Indian cities with modern airport facilities, Tier 2: small Indian towns with rudimentary airstrips). As Indian Airlines shifted into the 1960; their main fleet problem became dealing with a replacement for the ageing DC-3s. The venerable Dakotas were the only airliner that could operate on rudimentary grass and gravel strips; so common in India’s economically backwards Northeast region. Replacement for Tier 1 cities was easy but the fate of Tier 2 stations remained to be seen. Two manufacturers had offerings in the 40-44 seat turboprop market; the Fokker F-27 Friendship and the Avro 748 (later Hawker-Siddely 748s). The HS-748, with its low wing design, was considered the better aircraft for operations into Tier 2 markets, so India negotiated a deal from which HS-748s would be built at Kanpur, India. However, given India’s notorious problems with business, Indian Airlines also decided that it couldn’t wait for the HS-748s for Tier 1 replacement and simultaneously order F-27 Friendships as well. These aircraft were delivered in 1961 (a full 6 years before the first HS-748), and began plying routes across India. But even after delivery of both types; neither was able to replace the DC-3s on the smallest dirt and gravel strips; meaning that the DC-3s stayed in the fleet until 1974.

Air India Boeing 707 (VT-DJK) taken in London (LHR) in April 1969. Photo by Sir Hectimere.

Air India Boeing 707 (VT-DJK) taken in London (LHR) in April 1969. Photo by Sir Hectimere.

While Indian Airlines was grappling with tough fleet choices; sister Air India entered the jet age. When the Boeing 707 entered service in 1958, they quickly revolutionized air travel with their (relatively) quiet and fast service. Air India was no different than most carriers, and placed their first Boeing 707 on the London route in April of 1960, and in May of the same year, hit a milestone with entry into service between London and New York; becoming the first Asian airline to serve NYC. Air India was considered one of the most luxurious airlines in the world; with its unique brand of Indian service creating popularity not only from New York to India; but even on the trans-Atlantic crossing. Much of Air India’s extraordinary service reputation during the 60s and 70s was the result of the work of Bobby Kooka, a marketing executive whose credits include the venerable Maharaja logo (the symbol of Air India).

By 1962, the 707 had replaced the Constellations (which were converted to cargo service) on the routes to Tokyo, Australia, Africa, and Europe; Air India was now an all-jet airline. Throughout the 1960s; Air India rationalized its network to fit the changing airline world. The advent of jet travel allowed more routes to be operated than ever before. This led Air India to de-couple much of its European network (though almost all flights ended in London), and add service to more points in the Gulf and beyond. By the second half of the decade; Air India had begun to shift its network to meet the needs of the changing overseas Indian population. Flights to Europe declined in importance, as the 707 allowed Air India to expand its network. The island destinations of Fiji and Mauritius, where Indians composed 50% or more of the populations, entered in 1964 and 1967 respectively. In 1968 they added Entebbe and Addis Ababa as African points; both containing sizeable Indian population. But these additions could not compare to the sudden boom in Indian population that was taking place just across the Arabian Sea. The Muslim countries of the Gulf were experiencing an oil boom, with their economies growing in the double digits each year. In order to service this growing wealth, these countries imported hundreds of thousands of laborers from South Asia to build up their infrastructure and serve as domestic servants. While these laborers were not supremely wealthy, they did constitute a source of new and growing demand. Recognizing the need for direct India-Gulf services; Air India began operating to many Gulf points as stand-alone destinations. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Dhahran soon showed up on the route map; and such was the demand for Air India’s services that they even chartered a Vickers VC-10 from BOAC to service Kuwait. Air India’s 11 Boeing 707s stayed in the fleet until the 1980s; operating on secondary routes and serving as a valuable tool in opening new services.

Air India Boeing 747-200 (VT-EBO). Photo by Savvas Garozis.

Air India Boeing 747-200 (VT-EBO). Photo by Savvas Garozis.

Indian Airlines too was quick to enter the Jet Age. The Friendships had been successfully deployed on secondary routes, but it had quickly become apparent that the Viscounts were far too small for their main trunk routes. Two choices were possible; the British Trident and the French Caravelle. The Caravelle; with its bold rear-engines was the world’s first short-haul jet and it had served Air France with distinction. The Trident, on the other hand, was a paper airplane that carried only a few more passengers than the Caravelle with far more inefficiency. The Caravelles entered service on Indian Airlines’ trunk routes by 1964, equipped with 89 all-economy seats. In spite of the Caravelle’s extraordinary performance (Indian Airlines achieved annual utilization of almost 3,000 hours per aircraft- among the best in the world), problems with accidents persisted; and Air India lost 2 Caravelles in 1966. By 1968/69 Indian Airlines was in a severe capacity crunch (though the HS-748s helped some); further exacerbated by extraordinary demand on their trunk routes (which the Caravelles couldn’t fill). So in 1970, Indian Airlines won approval from the government to order a larger jet. The 125 seat Boeing 737-200 won the contract and 7 frames were ordered in 1970. However, this order was not without controversy; as the Douglas DC-9 and the BAC 1-11 were both in contention. The complicated and messy battle ended with the 737-200’s selection; and Indian Airlines received an aircraft that would remain the workhorse of its fleet into the 90s.

Thus concludes part one of The Air India Story; which covered the dual story of Air India and Indian Airlines from ~1930 till 1970. Part 2 will cover the B-747 era, as well as Indian Airlines into the 2000s. Part 3 will cover the current situation at Air India and its possible solutions

Image Citations:
de Havilland  from Air India
Route map from Wikipedia
Constellation by J. Roger Bentley
Boeing 707 by Sir Hectimere
Boeing 747 by Savvas Garozis

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

http://www.airlinereporter.com
Photo From First Boeing 707 During Tex Johnston’s Legendary Barrel Roll
35 Comments

Wow! Quite the impressive post. I look forward to reading more! 🙂

Vinay Bhaskara

Thanks!

This is a very detailed post Vinay – a pleasure to read and remember the good old times when most of the readers of this blog were probably not born or very young!

Very detailed & Impressive post.

thanks a lot for the detailed history eagerly waiting for the next to parts

Mark C. (OKC)

Most impressive Vinay. Look forward to Part 2 and 3.

Vinay Bhaskara

Thanks guys!

Abhilash

Nice post Vinay…Thanks a lot. May Air India come back as one of the best airline in the world.I am praying for that!!!

BHARAT RATANA J R D TATA
J 100th Birth Anniversary

A TRIBUTE
(By: Dial V. Gidwani, Retired Senior Executive of Air India)

Minister of Civil Aviation and the present management of Air India deserve congratulations for celebrating the late Mr. J R.D Tata’s 100th birth anniversary by organizing social events and an aerial display by Air India and Indian Air Force on October, 27, 2004 in Mumbai. Mr. Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata was known to us all, simply as J.R.D. Tata or more popularly as JRD.
What sweet and sad memories this anniversary evokes in the minds of those of us who sweated cheerfully over the decades to bring Air India to the pinnacle of glory under the great and inspiring Chairmanship of J.R.D. Tata! JRD was amongst the world’s great and undoubtedly the greatest Indian in the industrial, business, management and technological fields I will find myself inadequate if I speak of his high achievements in these various fields. All I can do is to speak of his patient, loving, tender and personal care and the attention which he devoted constantly to Air India and its employees.
JRD started India’s first commercial airline in 1932, which was known initially as the Tata Airline. Soon it came to be called Air India. It was in 1948 that Air-India burst on to the international scene and inaugurated its international flights to London through points in West Asia and Europe, under the name and banner of Air India International. JRD saw to it that Air India was respected all over the world as a first class airline, eventually serving every continent with enviable network of services and a loyal passenger traffic which placed confidence on the efficiency and reliability of the airline.
Sadly, the situation had deteriorated after JRD ceased to be at the helm of Air India’s affairs, so much so that airlines of developing countries and even those that were formed long after Air India, have quickly overtaken the pre-eminent position that Air India had once occupied. But let me not speak of the mournful times that have assailed Air India after JRD had to part with it. I wish to devote this piece only to celebrate the happy period of Air India during JRD’s stewardship and recall his personality traits which made him a great corporate leader.

Some Glimpses of JRD”
JRD would keenly watch and somehow be the first to notice a dirty spot on the traffic counter. He would immediately find a rag to clean the offending spot. He didn’t even suggest it but the staff thence saw to it that the traffic counter was spotlessly kept clean.
“On a flight, he would visit each toilet in coach class and sometimes even assist in its cleaning. By example he clearly demonstrated to us the dignity of labor.
“When a new airhostess, seeing him on the flight, went to offer refreshment to him first, he said “You would be serving me best when you serve others first and me the last”. Yet he said this with such gentleness and thanked her so profusely when she finally came to serve him, that the same airhostess remembered the incident in her senior years as Chief Air Hostess. She would relate the story to the trainee air hostesses to explain that passengers are the very bread and butter of the airline and they always come first.
The Glimpses I have outlined above may not mean much too many, disjointed and scattered as they are. To me however, the pattern that emerges is crystal clear. JRD was a motivator, an inspirer and a role model. His was an example that in itself was a challenge and many sought to follow it in order to achieve a higher level of service and personal fulfillment. Many of my colleagues junior and senior, in Air India, had similar experiences of the greatness of this man. I will mention only some – Bobby Kooka, Nari Dastur, Nika Qadir, Bakul Khote, Peter Mahta, Inder Sethi, Malcolm Barreto, Stan Pinto, Merwan Nanporia and many others.

JRD’s Views on Nationalization of AIR INDIA an instance worth narrating; Our Commercial Team was led by Mr. S. K. Kooka (affectionately called “Bobby”, though rarely by us during office hours). We admired him and even feared him on those occasions when something went wrong in our handling of the commercial affairs of Air India. He respected us all personally though he had a cutting sense of humor, which at times did hurt. As commercial Director, he was a great motivator and he inspired us with a sense of loyalty to this fast-growing airline. It was Bobby Kooka who was the creator of Air India’s famous emblem – The Maharaja – which became celebrated and recognized throughout the world. Bobby Kooka felt sad over Government’s decision to nationalize Air India. He even published a poem to express his sadness on the eve of nationalization, reading as under:

FAREWELL…

“Little man, you have not long to stay”
With softness in their eyes, they gently ask
“What will become of thee?” I do not know.
For like the dog that knows two masters in one life,
How can my heart be aught but full of sadness! They gave me birth,
They nurtured me; this very House was where I saw
The light of day these fourteen years ago.
Though small as first, strong did I grow; who would not thrive on love and kindliness!
When I had roamed the length and breadth of our great land,
And famous was our name from north to south
And east to west, another world became my beat;
My wings I spread to peoples and to countries new.
Our country’s flag I bore to them, as strong of limb
I flew across the seas our precious freight.
Toil never dies; no pioneering feat sinks to the earth in vain
If seeds are sown that are honest and true,
Winter can but be on the wing.
Our name may change, our footprints stand.
Bowing low, I take leave of thee,
And if the world’s a stage, I’ve played my part.
And if the crowded house
In chorus thunders out SHABASH
Humbly shall I stand…?
And to those who take my place,
GODSPEED, shall I say.

(A poem by Bobby Kooka on the eve of Nationalization of Air India).
This speaks of Bobby Kooka’s love for the airline, which we all shared. Also, Bobby had fears for the future of the airline under nationalization- fears which not all of us shared. Air India was nationalized in 1953, with Government taking full ownership and control. JRD was not perturbed and had confidence in the future. Most of us took the cue from him and also remained steadfast. We thought that perhaps there were good and valid reasons for Nationalization of Air India. Certainly the airline needed new aircraft and vast investments o meet the growing challenge of the competition of the future. In any case JRD was to remain as the Chairman of the new Board of Directors, and the same management team would continue. So what was there to worry about, especially when unlimited funds and Governmental guarantees would henceforth be available for future growth! Only Bobby Kooka, hitherto a great optimist and always a man of laughter, saw ominous portent.

The Effect of Nationalization & JRD’s Dismissal
– and thence Bobby Kooka was eventually proved right. Initially, nationalization of Air India brought growth, greater finance, new fleet of aircraft, and more intensive and extensive network of services and growing confidence. Few realized that it was all due to the momentum provided by the sound practices of the past. And then… first slowly but surely and steadily and thereafter rapidly, the rot began to set in. The bureaucracy tightened its grip on the Airline, rarely for public gain but for petty, personal advantages. To politicians, the Airline became a provider of personal privileges. Even transfers, postings, promotions and such administrative decisions became the play-things of Ministers, Secretaries to Government of India and of others in power.
The resistance of Air India’s executives who stood against such malpractices by Ministers and high & low Government officers got continuously eroded. Only when jobs or transfers and postings were sought at higher levels at the instance of Ministers and Government officers or when other concessions and contracts were unduly sought, that JRD stood against these actions- politely, courteously, but with all the firmness at his command. Surely, he must have had the insight that his days with Air India were numbered.
Then came the time when Mr. Morarji Desai, the Prime Minister, decided to remove Mr. JRD Tata from Chairmanship of the Board of Air India. One can well understand, though never appreciated, the then Prime Minister and his Government’s unspoken view. Their silent view apparently was; how does an appointee of the Government who can be easily dismissed by the Government by a single-line notification dare to oppose the declared wishes of the PM or Ministers? What does JRD mean by taking the side of, or standing by, those of Air India’s executives who deny us these privileges and concessions! Truly, they must have rationalized that JRD had to be jettisoned as he was showing impatience with ever-growing Governmental interference. The consideration that undue demands by the government officials were detrimental to the interests of the Airline, arbitrary or against Air India’s practices and contrary to public policy, never apparently entered their mind. They just concluded that a more pliable Chairman for Air India was needed by Government.

Awards to JRD
Eventually, the succeeding Government of India recognized JRD’s contribution to Indian Aviation and in 1992 conferred on him Bharat Ratna India’s highest civilian Award. Never before had a person in business or industry been honored with this high Award. The International Civil Aviation Organization conferred on JRD its most prestigious Award – The Edward Warner Award, for the most outstanding contribution to International Aviation. Bhagwan Gidwani who had retired as Director from the International Civil Aviation Organization arranged for me to be specially invited to meet with JRD at the Award Ceremony in Montreal, Canada. It was a proud moment for Bhagwan and me to escort JRD from his hotel room to the Award Ceremony in the presence of Dr. Assad Kotaite, the President of the International Civil Aviation Organization and other celebrities.

A Personal Note
I was transferred to Paris in 1981 as Air India manager covering France, Spain, Canary Islands, Portugal and North Africa. This was my last posting before retirement.
The manager’s office was located in the same building where Mr. Tata was born at 8 Rue Halevy near L’ Opera, Paris. Per chance I had the privilege and honor of occupying the same room where JRD began his life. The Paris assignment was the most challenging for me. The Air India management’s instructions were to downsize and reduce the cost-revenue ratio. Various steps were taken and the cost-revenue ratio was brought down from 60% to 44%. In this process several senior French staff members had to go including some who had a long service with Air India and personally knew JRD. There was agitation followed by a strike. Displaced staff contacted JRD. .As usual JRD was sympathetic to the staff and questioned my action. During his next visit to Paris I presented to him the rationale on staff reduction. He was satisfied when I showed him that the savings to Air India, improved efficiency and revenue increases justified the action. He however desired that generous compensations should be given to displaced staff. Mr. Tata recognized and valued loyalty and dedication of the staff. I am grateful that Air India’s experience gave me confidence to start on a second career after retirement and establish my own successful travel service business.

To Conclude
I repeat- JRD was a great Indian, a great patriot and a great human being. I cannot say how much of his attention and devotion he gave to so many other companies which came under him. But for Air India he was not at all a shadowy figure, aloof or distant but a hands-on worker. His heart was in it. He was never superficial and he knew that the devil is in the detail. He went over not only in broad policy issues but also through the minutest aspects of passenger relations, cargo canvassing, postal mails, lost or mishandled baggage, customer satisfaction, publicity, follow-up and feedback. Above all, he could inspire and motivate to bring out in each of us better than what was normally our best.
Clearly, JRD may have loved Air India far more than any of the other enterprises under his chairmanship. But then, as I see the phenomenal results achieved by his other companies during his times, I realize that he had much to do with their progress and outlook. Perhaps his ardent affection for Air India was natural. Some of the other enterprises came to him largely by way of inheritance; the Airline was founded by him personally. Staff welfare in Air India, as a social responsibility, was near to his heart. Air India alone was not his personal creation. I believe he was personally instrumental in establishing the first Cancer hospital in India (possibly the first in Asia). He also established the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research to usher in the technological era in India. I have lost touch with many executives who worked in Air India in JRD’s time. Bobby Kooka passed away in 1996. He was a bachelor. Some said he had put in all his affection in Air India. JRD passed away in 1998.
These two loved the Airline. Many executives like me who worked with these two great personalities to see Air India grow, also loved the airline – and those of them as are still living, continue to love it despite the unfriendly treatment from the present management of Air India. But then old loyalties die hard and our affection for Air India continues. My thoughts turn to those long, hard days and nights when we worked, sharing the dream of JRD that Air India would be one of the world’s foremost airlines nurtured with India’s own enterprise. It is a sad day that we now witness the transfer of the management of this once-great airline into not-so-competent hands. Many stray thoughts also enter in my mind – Why is it that the best of our institutions are decaying in India and the worst of our people are flourishing? But I will not pursue these thoughts as my intention is to pay tribute to JRD TATA and look also to the future.
It is encouraging that the present Civil Aviation Minister Honorable Praful Patel and Air India management have shown appreciation of JRD TATA’s contribution to the aviation industry. From what I have seen and heard, the Minister is committed, with a sense of dedication, to improving the image and position of Air India. The present management of Air India also gives me confidence and seems to me to be well-poised to meet the challenge and opportunity of Air India’s position among the airlines of the world. Reintroducing the TATA culture will bring back the past glory to Air India and also build a surer foundation for Air India’s future growth.

Kannan Venkataraman

Dear Mr.Gidwani:

Please let me have your email address so that I can share some of my many, many experiences and memories of Air India. My father served the airline for 35+ years (until he retired as the Director of Planning & Internatiuonal Relations in 1977). I was one of the very few kids of airline folks of the early ’50’s who actually grew up with his parents as they were assigned in different cities (unlike many in Air India who opted to keep their kids in India for educational continuity). So as my father went from Bombay to Geneva, then opened new offices in Zuruch and Prague, then later took over from Mr.Pallu in Paris, then went back to Geneva to take over from Md.Dastur; then to New Delhi to replace Mr.T.K.Menon; and then to Beirut to replace Mr.Nikka Quadir and finally to Bombay at the behest of Air Mashall Chaturvedi, Mr. Unni and Mr. Kooka, I do have some rare memories of people, airplanes, and life in an airline family which can no longer be replicated today! I would love to share anecdotes. I have met and spent time with Mr.JRD and his wife and his sister-in-law (Mrs.Bertoli) as I was fluent in French at the age of 4 at a time when that was a rarity!

Please let me know how to make contact.

Kind regards / Kannan Venkataraman, Houston, Tx, USA (May 28, 2012)

Hi Kannan, this is Vinay the author of the article:

I would love to speak with you about your experiences sometimes.

Please connect with me via Facebook, Twitter (@TheABVinay), or email

[email protected] — You can just copy paste that.

gs dastur

Hi Kannan, This is Gulserene Dastur, Nari Dastur’s Daughter.
I remember your Dad from way back when. How are you doing?

Kannan Venkataraman

Hello, Gulserene! My goodness – I think the last time I saw you was many decades ago in Geneva!!! I was very saddened to read about your Dad passing away. Let me have your email address so we can exchange more information. It’s absolutely fantastic to hear from you.

gs dastur

Kannan, Sorry, only just saw this.
my email is [email protected]
Thanks for your kind words.
GS

gs dastur

No it’s not. Sorry. It’s [email protected]

i am proud to be in his comapny ”the father of indian civil aviation in india””

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Rohit Nandan

I am Rohit Nandan. I am currently the CMD of Air India. I would be very obliged Vinayji if you could post Part 2 and 3 of this blog as I need some insights for a presentation before an international audience on the historic occasion of Air India joining the Star Alliance on the 11th of July 2014. You may kindly post it on my email id ronnie[email protected]. Thanks

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Paul Miller

Oh, gosh ! How this brings back memories! As a child I would fly from England to either Bombay of Calcutta and back once or twice a year in the late 50s to see my father who worked for Burmah-Shell. I usually flew with Air India, Qantas, or BOAC; the airports I remember are Frankfurt, Bahrain, Beirut, Cairo, Karachi, Bombay and (of coarse) Dumdum outside Calcutta. (Sorry but this predates Mumbai and Kolkota!)
My main memory of this period is of the comforting sight of the exhaust flames and sound of the engines on the 3-tailed Super-Constellations, which sent me to sleep over night. Later I remember being disappointed by the whine of the so-called ‘Whispering Giant’ Bristol Britannia, which was nothing like as comforting as the roar of the Constellation, and didn’t have the exhaust flames to show they were working!
I never had the privilege of flying the Comet, nor of the 707 both of which entered service in the late 50s, but I still cherish the sights of the Super Constellation’s engines at night…….

chandan kumar sharma

This is an interesting articles.Please add something more.Thanks

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I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, wonderful blog!

Best post I ever read .good information to know about sir J.R.D TATA hard work for nation that no body can ever do or give ! great job

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Joseph

I want to know who built the air india international colony in 1953 at Bombay Kalina

Anil Pandey

I came across this article while searching for history of Air India. I am really grateful for the author for such a detailed insight in to what actually was Air India, not the present state where everyone treats it like shit. It is in such a pity state but when I go through the old era, it seemed to be one of the best airlines of the world. From one of the best to one of the worst, where the situation is so bad even a shut down is being considered. I was under the impression that Indigo was the first to come up with all economy seat configuration, but looks like Maharaja beat them 50 years ago. Very sad, all the more painful if you compare both the eras, the old and the new. The Maharaja – Then and Now!
Am planning to do a complete story. If Modi can turnaround the Maharaja, it would be his best contribution to the country.
As regards what should be or can be done:
First to relive the old era. It will refresh people memories and may get attraction due to the sentiments.
Second, focus on the all economy configuration. Discontinue the free meals approach, charge the passengers. Days of free lunches are gone.
Third, disband the labour unions, They were meant to safeguard the interests of workers in the olden days. They are the walls to hide behind and responsible for nepotism, corruption and inefficiency. Socialism approach led this to this situation. Once politics is out, the airline can address the issue systematically and scientifically.
Fourth, restructure the workforce, It has to be streamlined. A bloated workforce leads to inefficiency. Give them notice period and let them quit. No golden handshake. Either they serve 3 moths notice period and then quit, or quit with 2 months salary.
Fifth, stop all freebies. Don’t work on book adjustment basis. You use service, you pay in cash. Claim refund from your department/organisation later on. Your mess, you deal. Why the airline to worry?
Sixth, curtail the entitlements. Don’t allow Govt servants to fly First Class. Restrict them to Business Class. If they want, let them pay and upgrade.
Seventh, put employee salaries as per market scenario. If it is more, slowly put them at par. In 1993, I met an Indian Airlines employee while travelling from Ambala to Delhi. He was a baggage handler at Delhi airport and was drawing around 8000/- per month. At that time I think I was getting around 4000/- being in Defence Services.
Eighth, get rid of outsourced services. They are a drain from a commercial point of view. This approach is good for IT sector to get contracts from abroad, but does not work in other services. Suppose an employee through outsourced services gets 10,000/-, obviously the company has to pay min 12,000/- to the agency. Multiply this 2000/- with the no. of outsourced employees, you will get significant cost saving. Apply this for all outsourced services, and you will gain a lot of money. In the present situation, every Rupee saved is a journey towards success.
Ninth, reduce aircraft deployment on loss making routes. Social service is of no use if you are dead. Redeploy those aircraft on profit making routes by increasing the frequency. There is heavy demand for air travel. Just now I checked, 10 September Bangalore to Delhi costs around 3200/- and Karnataka Express Bangalore to New Delhi 2AC costs Rs. 3190/- Passengers will flock to Air India due to availability of additional flights. Air travel makes more sense for such category. Last year I paid 3600/- for Bangalore Delhi by Rajdhani Express, that too by 3AC
Tenth, reduce the turn around time. A flight should be able to fly back with in 30 minutes or so. If Japan can clean and make the bullet train in 7 minutes, I see no reason not to be able to do it for an aircraft which is much lesser in size. let the cabin crew make all trash ready before landing, and trash collection team and baggage handling team ready. let people work under pressure. Better that, than getting laid off as a result of complete shut down.
Eleventh, make people accountable. If you fail, you are responsible. Clear and well defined SOPs without any ambiguity. Failures not to be tolerated.
Twelfth, rework flight schedules. Presently most of the flights are Delhi/Mumbai based. This is an additional cost in terms of money and time. Decentralising to Hyderabad, Bangalore or Chennai will help. Increase non stop flights to Europe/US. Presently there is only DEL-SFO flight. Introduce from Mumbai or Bangalore as well.
Thirteenth, explore and introduce new routes. Go back to the Gulf routes from Mumbai and Bangalore. Start Bangalore/Mumbai to Nairobi or to Johannesburg routes. I flew Bangalore-Mumbai-Nairobi-Johannesburg route by Kenya Airways. Mumbai-Nairobi was 100% PACKED. There is a huge diaspora in Africa. From Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana to many other countries, Indians are everywhere. Addis Ababa could be started.
Hopefully, these should be sufficient to turn around Air India. If anyone feels that it will be difficult to implement, just think what will happen if it has to be shut down or sold to someone else. Remember, once Air India was such highly ranked that Singapore approached Air India to help setup Singapore Airlines. Just want those days back. And yes, we can do it.
Will it be easy? NO
Will it happen overnight? NO
Will everyone will be happy? NO
Is there a Jadu ki Chhadi (magic wand) which can do it? NO
Is it possible to do it at all? YES.
It will take time, effort and dedication like no other, along with lots and lots of perseverance.
But with a single minded determination, treating it like a mission of do or die, YES, we can do it.

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