Flight Plan

The rise and fall of the Maharaja

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on April 03, 2018


As the divestment process for Air India gets under way, with the government issuing the Expression of Interest, we look at some of the highs and lows in the seven-decade-long history of the state-owned airline.

1915: The airline began operations when Tata Sons launched regular air mail services between Karachi and Madras.

1946: The first flight of Deccan Airways takes off. Air India comes into being when Tata Airlines’ name is changed to Air India.

1948: Air India signs an agreement with the government to operate international services under the name Air India International. On June 8, Air India inaugurates its international services, with a weekly flight between Bombay and London via Cairo and Geneva.

1953: The Parliament nationalises Tata Airlines into Air India and Indian Airlines. JRD Tata stays on as Chairman with Air India till he is removed in 1978.

1960: Air India inducts its first Boeing 707, becoming the first airline in Asia to enter the jet age.

1970: Air India becomes the first Asian airline to have an all-jet fleet.

1985: One of the worst aviation disasters strikes Air India in June when its Boeing 747 Kaniksha is blown out of the sky over the Atlantic Ocean on the Toronto-Montreal-London-Delhi route. All 329 passengers die.

1990: A landmark year for Indian civil aviation and Air India as the Maharaja enters the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest evacuation effort by a single civilian airline. The airline flies over 1,11,000 people from Amman, Jordan, to Mumbai in 59 days, operating 488 flights just before the start of the Gulf war.

1994: Air Corporation Act repealed to allow the entry of private sector airlines in the domestic air space.

1999: Indian Airlines flight between Delhi and Kathmandu is hijacked.

2001: Michael Mascarenhas, the last of the Air India staffers to have risen from the ranks, retires as Managing Director. Since then the position is occupied by government officials.

2005: Air India signs an agreement to purchase 68 Boeing aircraft. It is after a gap of a decade-and-a-half that the state-owned carrier buys planes rather than taking them on lease.

2007: The Manmohan Singh government merges Indian Airlines and Air India with the merged entity also being called Air India. The merger attains official status as the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL). Air India launches non-stop operations to the United States.

2009: The Group of Ministers assures support to Air India in the form of equity infusion after news of its losses and financial position makes it to the public space

2010: For the first time, Air India operates the B777-200LR ultra long-haul non-stop flight from Mumbai to New York with an all-women crew.

Air India achieves a perfect 10 at the XIX Commonwealth Games as all its nine sportspersons and one coach who had qualified for the Games come home with medals.

Tragedy strikes again when an Air India Express Boeing 737-800 overshoots the table runway at Mangalore and crashes into the wooded valley below. Out of the 160 passengers on board, only eight survive.

2011: Air India operates 36 flights to evacuate 11,345 stranded Indians in Cairo following political turmoil in Egypt, even though the airline does not operate scheduled services between India and Egypt.

2012: Pilots protest against the management’s decision to train pilots to fly the Boeing 787. Minister of Civil Aviation Ajit Singh tells Parliament that Air India suffered a loss of around ₹600 crore due to the 58-day-long pilot strike.

2013: Government announces it will infuse additional funds to the tune ₹30,000 crore into Air India till 2020. The debt-strapped airline starts to monetise its assets by giving out its iconic Nariman Point building on rent.

Air India hives off two of its subsidiaries – Ground Handling and Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul – to be operated as separate profit centres.

2015: Pilots’ strike delays flights after the management’s decision to stop calling them workmen.

2017: The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs gave its approval for the strategic disinvestment of Air India and five of its subsidiaries

2018: Ashok Gajapathi Raju, former Minister of Civil Aviation, says he will not be surprised if Air India’s total debt reaches ₹70,000 crore.

The government kickstarts the Maharaja’s divestment by offering a 76 per cent stake and management control to the private sector.

Published on April 03, 2018

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