Flight Plan

From an ‘amiable cow’ to a Dream (liner)

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on October 02, 2019 Published on October 02, 2019

A look at the various aircraft that have been part of Air India’s portfolio over the years

As talk about divestment of Air India hots up again, BusinessLine looks at some of the aircraft that the airline has flown since its inception in 1932.

Air India started as Tata Airlines, with mail services on the Karachi, Ahmedabad, Bombay, Bellary, Madras route on October 15, 1932. On November 6, 1937, Tata Sons began the Bombay-Indore-Bhopal-Gwalior-Delhi service with the Waco TQC-6 aircraft. This flight had JRD Tata flying the aircraft.

However, the country had to wait till 1946 to hear about Air India. For, it was in that year that Tata Airlines changed its name to Air India.

Barely two years later, on June 8, 1948, the airline’s first international flight took off from Mumbai, with Nawab Amir Ali Khan of Jamnagar and JRD Tata on board. The ‘Malabar Princess’ landed in London on June 10. The journey is now done by Air India’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Boeing 777 aircraft in about nine hours.

In its seven-decade-long existence, the airline has used different variety of aircraft. It became the first airline in Asia to operate jet aircraft when it inducted the Boeing 707 into its fleet in 1960. The airline has also operated the Airbus A-300 aircraft.

All in the family (clockwise from bottom left) Boeing 707; the variety of aircraft used for the first international flight; Dakota DC-3, or the ‘amiable cow; Airbus A-320 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner   -  subjug


Over the years, the pilots associated with the Maharaja developed fondness for different aircraft that the airline flew, which were at different levels of technological sophistication.

When the egg went rolling

For Captain Vijay Fernandez, who flew a variety of aircraft, including the Boeing 747, during his over three-decade service with the Maharaja, the Dakota remains the favourite.

The aircraft, which was decommissioned long ago, tilted to its back while standing on the ground. He recalls an incident when Morarji Desai, who eventually became the Prime Minister, was flying with him. “I was cracking a boiled egg so that I could finish my breakfast before take-off. The egg slipped and since the aircraft was tilting, it rolled to the end of the aircraft where Desai, who always sat on the last seat, was sitting. He looked at the egg and then at me and smiled,” recalls the pilot. Incidentally, the DC-3, as the Dakota was popularly called, was the mainstay of Air India's fleet in the immediate post-War period. Pilots called it an ‘amiable cow.’

Captain Minoo Wadia, who also spent close to three decades flying a variety of aircraft for Air India, recalls that flying the modern machines with their modified engines, different parameters and different performance levels was a real task.

Today, Air India has 172 aircraft of which it owns 87. The fleet includes both Boeing and Airbus aircraft.

It has the Boeing 787, the Boeing 777 and the Boeing 747 aircraft, while its Airbus family aircraft include the Airbus 320, Airbus 320 New Engine Option, the A-321 and A-319 apart from two variety of ATR aircraft. The airline flies to 37 international destinations.

Airbus A 320 aircaraft   -  V_Sudershan


“Air India was also one of the first airlines to get the A-310. This was a prelude to the total fly-by-wire glass cockpit aircraft,” Captain Wadia says.

Among the other firsts are Air India becoming the first airline in Asia to have an all jet-fleet in 1960 when it inducted the Boeing 707 and becoming the first Indian airline to offer flights connecting India and the US.

In 1990, the airline entered the Guinness World Records for the largest evacuation effort by a single civilian airline.

It flew over 1,11,000 people from Amman, Jordan, to Mumbai in 59 days, operating 488 flights using the Boeing 747 aircraft just before the start of the Gulf War.

Says Captain Amitabh Singh of Air India who flew these sorties, “It was very tough. There were fighters all around. There was heavy smoke as hundreds of oil fields had been burnt and we were literally landing blind into the airport.”

More recently, in 2011, Air India operated 36 flights to evacuate 11,345 stranded Indians in Cairo following political turmoil in Egypt, even though it does not operate scheduled services between India and Egypt.

Published on October 02, 2019
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