Early Days; Commercial Aviation in India

By David Hopwood | December 21, 2019

The history of the Indian Aviation Industry started in December 1912 with the first domestic air route between Karachi and Delhi. It was opened by the Indian Air Services in collaboration with the UK based Imperial Airways as an extension of London-Karachi flight of the Imperial Airways. In 1915 The first Indian airline, Tata Sons Ltd., started a regular airmail service between Karachi
and Madras without any patronage from the government.

Handley Page HP.42 refueling underway in Palestine (now Israel) en route to India from UK

The civil aviation work actually started in in 1924-25, but the progress was slow until the outbreak of the second World War. War however brought boom into Civil Aviation in India with post war inventory of surplus aircraft, network of aerodromes and ground based meteorological, navigation and communication infrastructure. As a consequence, early enthusiasm led to mushrooming of a number of domestic airlines without due consideration of minimum need for planning /organization and back-up overhaul/ repair infrastructures and above all financial resources.

Tata Airlines came into being as a division of Tata Sons Limited. It started Air Mail services on the Karachi, Ahmedabad, Bombay, Bellary, Madras routes on 15 October 1932.

At the time of Independence, nine air transport companies were operational. Later the number reduced to eight when the Orient Airways shifted its base to Pakistan. The then operational airlines were Tata Airlines, Indian National Airways, Air Service of India, Deccan Airways, Ambica Airways, Bharat Airways and Mistry Airways. These airlines were operating within and beyond the frontiers of the company, carrying both air cargo and passengers.

Tata Air Services was re-named Tata Air Lines and modern Douglas DC-3’s joined the fleet in 1945.

Planning commission recommended the merger of eight scheduled airlines and taking over by the Government. As a result, Air corporation Act, 1953 came into being with two corporations namely Air India International (All) for International services and Indian Airlines Corporation (IAC) with merger of eight private airlines for domestic air services respectively. Nationalisation thus ended an eventful era of private enterprise in the air transport sector.

During 1954-55 Indian Airlines Corporation carried around 4,80,000 passengers. Indian Airlines Corporation managed to contain its operational costs (including 35% costs towards fuel taxation) gradually reducing operating losses and even made marginal profits in 1959-60. On 21 February 1960, it took delivery of its first Boeing 707 named Gauri Shankar and became the first Asian airline to induct a jet aircraft in its fleet. For the first time in 1987-88, Indian Airlines crossed 10-million passenger mark.

Emperor Ashoka VT-EBD the first Boeing 747-200 to join the fleet in 1971.

The liberalisation process in Civil Aviation commenced early in.1990-91, by allowing International freighters to operate air cargo services from to India without reference to Director General of Civil Aviation. The shippers were thus benefited with timely availability of capacity, range of service and wider choice of rates hence the term ‘Open Sky’ for the air cargo was coined.

The Air Corporations Act, 1953 was repealed and was replaced by Air Corporations (Transfer of Undertaking and Repeal) Act, 1994 thus enabling private operators to operate scheduled services and number of private players including Jet Airways, Air Sahara, Modiluft Airlines, Damania Airways, NEPC Airlines and East West Airlines commenced domestic operations. East-West Airlines was the first national private airline to operate in the country after almost 37 years.

The civil aviation industry in India has emerged as one of the fastest growing industries in the country during the last three years. India is currently considered the third largest domestic civil aviation market in the world. India has become the third largest domestic aviation market in the world and is expected to overtake UK to become the third largest air passenger market by 2024.

Article:- Neeloy Mazumder

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