Sunday, July 09, 2017

Air India: Crew recall good old days when the Maharaja was pride of the nation

Mumbai: On the ninth floor of a tower block in Malabar Hill, the view is almost cinematic. We are sitting beside veteran pilot Captain CRS Rao, and, as we hear the nonagenarian regale us with stories from his rusty, yet incisive memory, we cannot ignore the irony. Overlooking us in the far distance, beyond the steely grey Arabian Sea, is the Air India building, the institution where Rao worked for over 30 years, before hanging up his hat in 1985. Having trained hundreds of pilots as director of training, the man whom Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, alias JRD, most trusted when laying the foundation for a supreme airline, still gets emotional when reminiscing about his days in the cockpit. It's but natural that the current state of disrepair that AI finds itself in makes Rao anxious.
With the government giving its nod to the airline's disinvestment, there's a faint glimmer of hope that its fortunes will take a turn for the better. But, in this period of chaos, AI's most faithful squad would rather take comfort in the Golden Era of 'The Maharaja', when JRD's labour of love was among the frontrunners in the airline industry.
Captain Jag Mohan Nath, 87, the only living Indian Air Force veteran to be decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra twice, abruptly ended his stint in the armed services to join Air India in February 1969. It wasn't unusual for IAF pilots to trade the fighter planes for commercial flights, he tells us.
But, barely had the former IAF aerial reconnaissance photographer started flying, he found himself at the heart of a major pilot strike when AI decided to end the three-year permanent postings for pilots in London, Perth and Hong Kong. JRD, who helmed AI then, called upon the IAF contingent of pilots to discuss the matter. It is during this meeting that Nath had his first encounter with JRD. When the Tata head probed him for suggestions, Nath didn't hold back. "Sir, this strike is being held because of you," Nath dared. Shocked by his defiance, some of the seniors in the room tried to hush him up. But, JRD encouraged Nath to continue. "We [pilots] miss you a lot. Maybe, you should have more interactions with the commercial staff and the operations crew," he added. JRD smiled and agreed to look into it soon.
09/07/17 Jane Borges/Mid Day