Friday, September 19, 2014

BOMBAY AVIATOR AND PIONEER PILOT-TATA


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equipped in India and by laying out such an aerodrome and providing facilities for hotel accommodation,etc the Maharaja has made his capital an important stopping place on the route between Karachi and the East. 
Another example was the private aerodrome of Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar of Chettinad which was proposed to become the home base of a Madras-Ceylon air service.And when Tata finally launched a Bombay-Delhi service it went by the rather circuitous route of Gwalior,Indore and Bhopal thanks to the facilities provided by the rulers in these states.These rulers also gave the fledgling airlines lucrative consignments.A Times article from 1935 notes the interesting cargoes carried by those first flights.Pearls from the Gulf,not oil,were the most valuable regular consignments,but the maharajas of Kashmir and Baroda were also sending mangoes of the best quality.An unnamed maharaja had used the service to send papads to London,and betel nuts were another promising cargo.
In the understandably bitter speech JRD delivered in 1953 on the eve of nationalisation of the Indian aviation industry,he recalled this phase,from 1932-40 as the hard but satisfying era of pioneering.The challenges were high,yet everyone involved was enthusiastic,opportunities were plenty and,best of all,the government was hardly involved.It was in the post-1940 period when the government started taking more interest that things went awry.The policy put in place then got two things wrong: it loaded the whole industry with a high tax on fuel,and also undermined existing players by indiscriminately giving out licences so that many new airlines started,but with no real viability.
That pre-1940 period had four main Indian airlines: apart from Tata there was Indian Trans-Continental Airways,Indian National Airways (both linked to Imperial Airways) and Air Services of India.After 1940 several shortlived services came up Deccan,Himalaya,Ambica,Mistri.As these flew into problems,the government got involved in trying to keep them going,and slowly got closer into the aviation business.JRD watched this with foreboding,regularly pointing out the folly of its involvement in a business that required both quick decisions and a service focus.On both these counts,State enterprise,with its rigid and slow moving administration and its inevitable red tape and conservatism,cannot possibly compare with private enterprise, he said to the Times in 1946.
Yet JRD knew it was best not to resist the trend too much.His personal closeness to Jawaharlal Nehru,despite differences over economic policy,made him realise the need to work with the government,and his plans to take Tata Airlines international seemed the ideal meeting point.First he took it public in 1946,renaming it Air India.Then the next year he submitted a plan to the government to set up an international airline for India,with the government holding 49%,Tatas holding 25% and the balance 26% with the public.And acknowledging that the government would probably want majority control 
soon,it was given the option of taking over 
2% from the Tatas.The government 
agreed and Air India was incorporated 
in 1948 and launched its Bombay-London service three months later.
This seemed an ideal balance.The 
government was involved,but the service was run by Tata,and JRD threw himself into making it one of the best in the world.Foreign experts were flown in to train the new staff,with special emphasis on the air-hostesses providing the best service.Bobby Kooka,the legendary marketing head of Air India was brought on board and given absolute freedom to develop strategy for the airline,which resulted in the maharaja mascot.India was a fresh,exotic and glamorous new country at that time,and Air India based its strategy around this image.
Yet,if one was superstitious,there was a bad portent early on.The plane that launched Air Indias international operations was a Lockheed Constellation named Malabar Princess which left Bombay for London on June 8,1948.Barely two years later,on November 3,1950 this same plane crashed into Mount Blanc with the loss of 48 lives (16 years later,the Air India plane Kanchenjunga would crash in almost the same place).
JRDs hopes for a proper public-private partnership with Air India would crash three years later when the government made it clear that all private airlines in India would be nationalised (with Air India itself the process was even simpler,since the government simply exercised its option to take majority control).As a grace note,Nehru asked JRD to stay on as chairman.
In his speech at the last annual general meeting of Air India as a semi-private entity,JRD acknowledged that some in the private sector felt that by agreeing to stay on as chairman,I had let down private enterprise. This wasnt quite true,he said,since Air India was not an entirely private company.But the main consideration,he said which weighed with me was that I would be lacking in a sense of duty if I refused to make whatever contribution I could to the maintenance of the high standards and prestige which Air India International has established in India and abroad. 
Air India might be a mostly lost cause now,but that commitment to quality aviation,born on a beach in France and passed on to JRDs successors at Tata Sons,makes the groups re-entry with Singapore Airlines no surprise.

 

 

 

 

 


1.JRD Tata at the launch of Air Indias new corporate image in 1989 2.At the controls of a Vampire jet 3.The first batch of air hostesses;glamour was an integral part of Tata Airlines from the start 4.JRD after his arrival in Bombay in 1932 after flying the first commercial flight in India 5.An Air India hoarding protesting finance ministry policy 6.PM Jawaharlal Nehru and aviation minister Jagjivan Ram (L) at the launch of the Indian Airlines Corporation,post-nationalisation in 1953 7.Air India undertook high-profile events.Here a baby elephant is being delivered to Antwerp Zoo on AIs inaugural flight to Brussels 8.JRD at the controls 
 
Bobby Kooka,the legendary marketing head of Air India,was brought on board to develop strategy.The result The famous maharaja mascot