New Delhi: On an exciting morning of October 15, 1932, a young JRD Tata, clad in white trousers and short-sleeved shirt, armed with only a pair of goggles and a slide rule, took off punctually from Karachi in a Bombay-bound single-engine Puss Moth, carrying 25 kg of airmail and the weight of history on its wings.
Tata, who was just 28 then, landed on the Juhu mudflats on this very day nearly 90 years ago, scripting an aviation history for undivided India, that would also lay the foundation for what will later become the prestigious carrier ‘Air India’ in 1946.
Yesterday marked the 89th anniversary of that historic first commercial flight of India and a week before in a homecoming of sorts for Air India, the over 150-year-old Tata group brought back the debt-laden airline to its fold, with the salt-to-software conglomerate shelling out a whopping sum (Rs 18,000 crore).
The Tatas, the original owners of Air India, are also known to celebrate their heritage and its iconic leaders who continue to inspire its employees and people across the country and beyond, and the story of Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy ‘Jeh’ Tata or JRD, as he was affectionately addressed, finds a pride of place in its central archives.
A long essay in the archives – ‘Wings For a Nation’ – complemented with old photographs, has frozen the sentiments of JRD on that day.
“On an exciting October dawn in 1932, a Puss Moth and I soared joyfully from Karachi with our first precious load of mail, on an inaugural flight to Bombay. As we hummed towards our destination at a ‘dazzling’ hundred miles an hour, I breathed a silent prayer for the success of our venture and for the safety of those who worked for it,” he said.
As he landed in Bombay (now Mumbai), JRD did not take the credit for this achievement. He gave it instead to a far-seeing Englishman – a former officer of the RAF (Royal Air Force) called Nevill Vintcent – who had earlier offered JRD Tata a project to start an airline, according to the company’s well-kept archives.
The group had invested Rs 2 lakh back then in 1932 to start Tata Aviation Service, the precursor to Tata Airlines and eventually Air India when Tata Airlines went public and became a joint-stock company in 1946.
Tata Airlines, a division of Tata Sons, from its infancy in the 1930s grew to become Air India, one of the most prestigious carriers in the world, and Air India International in 1948.
“We were a small team in those days. We shared successes and failures, the joys and headaches, as together we built up the enterprise which later was to blossom into Air-India and Air-India International,” JRD had said, according to the archives.
On the 89th anniversary, the Tata Group recalled the first flight with a photograph on Twitter.
“JRD ‘Jeh’ Tata fell in love with flying at the age of 15 and took India to the skies with him thirteen years later. #TDTY he piloted the inaugural flight of India’s first commercial airline on October 15th, 1932, from Karachi to Bombay,” it tweeted.
What started as a small airmail operation with two secondhand de Havilland Puss Moths was just the beginning of a sprawling era of aviation, it said.
In 1962, JRD ‘Jeh’ Tata recreated that first flight from Karachi to Bombay to commemorate its 30th anniversary. And then again, in 1982, at the age of 78, he took to the skies in a 50-year-old De Havilland Leopard Moth to celebrate its golden jubilee, the group wrote on Twitter.
“Even today, as we remember this historic move, we’re filled with JRD ‘Jeh’ Tata’s spirit of adventure and his undying love for flying. #ThisIsTata,” it said.
In 1953, when the then government of Jawaharlal Nehru had nationalised Air India, JRD fought vehemently against it.
The Karachi-Bombay flight had flown via Ahmedabad, where it stopped over for refuelling, which was done by Burmah Shell company.
Rajiv Soni, 68, a former employee of the Tata Steel and an aviation heritage enthusiast, said, “It is the homecoming for Air India, and I am hopeful that it will again grow into a world-class airline”.
Soni, who retired in 2013, as head of market communications and corporate branding, Tata Steel in Kolkata, said, “Air India was JRD’s ‘first love’ and on October 15, 1932, he had scripted that history out of his love for aviation.”
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