The Indian aviation industry turned exactly a century old yesterday. Since the first 10-km flight from Allahabad to Naini, the sector holds the distinction of being the fastest growing and the 9th largest in the world today
EXACTLY a century ago, when India’s first commercial flight took off for Naini from Allahabad, not many who witnessed the birth of the country’s aviation sector could have foreseen that it would grow to become the ninth largest in the world and ferry close to 50 million people a year.
The first chapter of Indian aviation was penned on February 18, 1911, by French pilot Monseigneur Henry Piguet, who flew a Humber biplane from Allahabad to Naini, just across the Yamuna River, and back covering a distance of about 10 km.
He carried nearly six thousand letters, many of which were addressed to King George V of England with ‘First Aerial Post’ as the postmark. This was also considered to be the world’s first airmail service.
One year later, in 1912, the first domestic air route between Karachi and Delhi became operational. The service between the two cities was operated by the Indian State Air Services together with the Imperial Airways (a UK-based airline).
In 1915, to expand the horizons of the aviation industry, Tata Sons Limited started regular airmail services between Karachi and Madras (now Chennai). They also founded Tata Airlines, which was rechristened Tata Air Services in 1938 and then Tata Air Lines the same year.
On October 15, 1932, J R D Tata himself flew a single-engine aircraft from Karachi’s Drigh Road Aerodrome to Bombay’s Juhu Airstrip via Ahmedabad. The aircraft continued to Madras via Bellary, flown by former Royal Air Force pilot Nevill Vintcent.
Tata Air Lines did not, however, survive for too long after the end of World War II.
On July 29, 1946, it became a public limited company called Air India and the government acquired 49 per cent stake in it, making it the country’s designated flag carrier.
Air India operated its first international flight on June 8, 1948, from Bombay to London.
At the time of independence, nine air transport companies were operational in the British India. After independence, the number reduced to eight when Orient Airways shifted base to Pakistan.
The airlines operational at the time were Air India, Indian National Airways, Air Service of India, Deccan Airways, Ambica Airways, Bharat Airways and Mistry Airways.
Parvez Damania, who owned Damania Airways, which was sold in 1996, said, “We are the fastest growing aviation market in the world and all the aircraft manufacturers from Airbus to Boeing feel that the Indian aviation market has huge potential.
The airlines operating on the domestic routes are above the world standard. I think there is no need to increase the number of airlines. Instead, the existing airlines should expand by increasing their reach in other routes.”
Former DGCA chief, H S Khola, said, “The growth has been phenomenal in the last 20 years since private carriers entered the industry. I feel the government should involve the airlines, too, while planning the sector’s growth.”
1924: Construction of civil airports began in India. Construction began at Dum Dum in Calcutta, Bamrauli in Allahabad and Gilbert Hill in Bombay
1940: Walchand Hirachand set up Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore in association with the then Mysore Government
1941: India’s first aircraft, the Harlow trainer, was rolled out for a test flight
1948: Air India signed an agreement with the Government to operate international services under the name Air India International Ltd
1948: Prem Mathur became the first woman commercial pilot and started flying for Deccan Airways. She obtained her commercial pilot’s licence in 1947
1953: Civil Helicopter Services were introduced in the country
1956: Durba Banerjee was inducted as Indian Airlines’ first woman pilot
1960: India entered the jet age with the induction of Boeing 707-437 into Air India’s fleet
1985: Captain Saudamini Deshmukh commanded the first all-woman crew flight on an Indian Airlines Fokker friendship F-27 on the Calcutta-Silchar route
1986: The National Airports Authority was constituted
1990-91: Private airlines entered the country after the de-regulation of the civil aviation sector. Private airlines were given permission to operate charter and non-scheduled services under the ‘Air Taxi’ Scheme. East-West Airlines was the first national private airline to operate in the country after almost 37 years.
1990: At 26, Captain Nivedita Bhasin of Indian Airlines became the youngest pilot in civil aviation history to command a jet aircraft. She also became the first woman pilot on an Airbus A300 aircraft.
1990: Air India entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest evacuation effort by a single civilian airline when it flew over 1,11,000 people from Amman to Mumbai in 59 days, operating 488 flights just before the Gulf war began.
1995: Airports Authority of India (AAI) was constituted by merging the International Airport Authority of India with National Airports Authority.
2003: Low Cost Carriers were launched in the country when Air Deccan started its services
2006: The government approved the restructuring and modernisation of Mumbai and Delhi airports through the public-private partnership model
Did you know?
Captain Saudamini Deshmukh commanded the first all-woman crew flight on an Indian Airlines Fokker friendship F-27 on the Calcutta-Silchar route in 1985
is India’s ranking in the global aviation market
Number of operational airports across the country
Number of air passengers India is expected to ferry this year
Number of aircraft operational in the country