Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Air India was once the company that inspired Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific

In the early 1970s, the government of Singapore, led by prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, had a great idea. In order to attract investment into the little island nation, it thought of starting an international airline that would act as a kind of flying advertisement for Singapore and its world-class capabilities. It would do this by demonstrating to decision-makers around the world a level of excellence that that they had never experienced from the top global airlines of the time.
It was a brilliant idea, but this new Singapore Airlines would obviously need to collaborate with an existing airline from which it would acquire the necessary know-how and service standards. The question was, which airline could that be? The authorities made a shortlist of the world’s best airlines, and finally zeroed in on one of them.
And that airline, believe it or not, was Air India.
Anthony Sampson, in his best-selling book, Empires of the Sky—The Politics, Contests and Cartels of World Airlines, devotes a chapter to how Asian carriers like Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Thai Airways began to dominate the skies in the 1970s by redefining the concept of service. But the very first Asian airline to do so, Samson notes, was Air India, which provided the inspiration for all the others, right from the 1940s.
Air India had a curious beginning. In the early 1930s, airmail letters from Europe to India were unloaded from international airlines in Karachi. This mail was then sent on to its intended destination by train—a process that could take several days. A former Royal Air Force pilot named Nevill Vintcent had an idea: What if someone set up an air service that could pick up the mail from Karachi and deliver it to its destination the same day? Vintcent took the idea to JRD Tata, the 25-year-old scion of the Tata family and an aviation freak (as a child in France, his family had been neighbours of Louis Bleriot, a legendary pioneer of aviation, and the young JRD had been given his first flight by none other than Adolphe Pegoud, the world’s first fighter ace in World War I, and the first man ever to accomplish the aerobatic maneuver called “loop the loop”).
Thus, in 1932, JRD Tata and Vintcent started Tata Air Mail. They had two little Puss Moth aircraft, which could fly at 100 mph, carrying a consignment of mail, as well as two passengers; the only equipment was a pair of goggles and an old-fashioned slide rule to help the pilot navigate. Tata Air Mail’s first flight took off on Oct. 15, 1932. JRD Tata carried the mail from Karachi to Bombay, and then Vintcent took over to carry the remaining mail from Bombay to Madras. (Interestingly, that first flight was delayed by a month because unseasonal rains had flooded the mud-flat runaway in Bombay, and they had to wait until it had dried completely.)
4/07/17 Anvar Alikhan/Scroll.in/Quartz