Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tata Airlines to Air India: Is the Maharajah set for a home flight?

New Delhi: In the highly competitive Indian aviation market, Air India, the country’s flag carrier, has long been struggling. The ‘Maharajah’ is beset with a debt of over Rs 52,000 crore and has been teetering on a bailout package that was extended by the government in 2012. Over the last two decades, calls for partial or complete privatisation of the airline have often risen although no substantive solution was ever found.
Earlier this month, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in surprising remarks, said in an interview that he would sell the airline completely if given a choice. “Air India can continue to be a national carrier and somebody else pay for its management,” he told ET Now.
Now, reports are emerging yet again that the Tata Group, one of the country’s biggest conglomerates, is holding discussions with government representatives about buying a stake in the beleaguered airline. The company, of course, hasn’t confirmed the speculations but if true, we may be looking at the national airline making a return to its place of birth.
Air India, before its nationalisation, used to be known as Tata Airlines having been founded by former chairman of Tata Group, JRD Tata in 1932. Tata, right from his childhood, was passionate about flying through his association with the family of Louis Bleriot, a French aviator, and got his first shot to ride in an aircraft in 1919 when he was just 15 years old. His aviation ambitions came true 10 years later in 1929 when he became the first man in India to get a commercial pilot’s license. Three years later, Tata Airlines was born with an initial investment of Rs 2 lakh from Tata Sons and two second-hand de Havilland Puss Moths. In the autumn of 1932, in India’s inaugural flight, Tata himself piloted a single-engine plane carrying 25 kilograms of mail from Karachi to Bombay. The mail used to come to Karachi from England by the Imperial Airways.
In subsequent years, Tata Airlines also ran commercial operations apart from the usual mail deliveries, often making stops between Mumbai and Trivandrum and then later to Delhi, Gwalior and Bhopal. Six years after its birth, Colombo became the airline’s first international destination charting a growth map few airlines were able to match within such a short span of time. It also conducted several trips during the Second World War carrying refugees from Burma and constantly engaged in the maintenance of RAF equipment.
In 1946, Tata Airlines was re-christened Air India Ltd after it became a joint stock company and opened its office on the second floor of the head office of Tata Group. While relations between the government and the company were initially smooth post-independence, rumours soon began to swirl of the airline along with a host of other companies being considered for nationalisation, a proposition JRD was not comfortable with.

22/06/17 Indian Express