Today, as we look back in the course of over just a century, the first manned flight to the first manned spaceflight has occurred within a lifetime. It bears testimony to the fact that the aviation landscape has evolved. Civil aviation likewise has been subject to changes. Civil aviation started off in the 1910s carrying mail and cargo, and then graduated to passengers. In fact, the world's first airline was established in 1909 based out of Frankfurt, and they flew the Zeppelin airships. JRD Tata, widely renowned as the pioneer of civil aviation in India, became the first Indian to attain a flying license. He then flew the first commercial flight in 1932 from Karachi and has been instrumental in defining the Indian civil aviation sector. The first airports were literally just fields. As the quantum of flying picked up, flare paths evolved for night operations and onwards to electric lights. Using bi-planes, with wooden propellers, skin made of cloth, and with no navigational aids, they were the pioneers who ushered in the era of air travel. The concept with all its frailties of the days was an idea that was embraced to herald a change that today is impossible to imagine a world without.

After taking a forced backseat during WW-2, civil aviation again came forth; this time adopting jet engines. The first jet transport aircraft to blitz across the skies was the Avro Canada C-102, a 50-seater launched in Aug 1949. This was the aircraft that all airlines drooled over, with the two jet engines mounted in each wing root. The cyclic pressurisation loads on the airframe ended the lifespan of an aircraft that was amongst the most sought after rather abruptly. There has been a shift with the advent of computers, composite materials, and turbofan engines since then. As the economy of numbers kicked in, cost of air travel remained stationary or competing with land-based travel modes. At the same time, the turboprops also evolved, leading to development of the short-haul routes. As the technology evolved, bigger aircraft took to the skies like the now-iconic 747. The increased reliability of the turbojets made the large ocean crossings feasible by twin-engine aircraft and this further brought in the economy in travel. The increased numbers in the skies required increased infrastructure on the ground, and this game of catch-up continues as airports and airlines become the hub centres of economic activity. The dampener from Covid-19 notwithstanding, the ferocity with which air travel has bounced back twice over, shows that the human spirit to take to the skies shall always be alive a century and even two later.

The author is Chief of Safety, AirAsia India

(This article was written to mark The International Civil Aviation Day on December 07).