The story of the Indian Aviation Industry (Part 1)

The first part of this article series is dedicated to celebrating the 75th Independence Anniversary of India.

I am an Avgeek. I enjoy flying the jumbos but I had a ‘love-at-first-sight (Read: flight!)’ thing with the Turboprop family of gorgeous aircrafts like ATRs and Bombardiers after flying SpiceJet’s Q400 to Dharamshala. And I was really excited to fly Air India’s ATR 42-320 to Uttarakhand’s picturesque Pantnagar Airport in the summer of ‘19. 

Air India’s Turboprop ATR 42-320. Notice the three B-737s belonging to Jet Airways in the background!

I was on my way to board my first flight, AI 850, from Pune to Delhi when I got a message from the airline. And it was the message that I dreaded the most. My flight from Delhi to Pantnagar was cancelled. I was heartbroken- seriously! I went to Delhi anyway and then continued my subsequent journey by road. A week into doing touristy things in Uttarakhand, I got another message from the airline- again, which I dreaded! Yes, my flight back to Delhi from Pantnagar was also cancelled! I went back to Delhi by road- again. The roads were crazy as usual and I entered the IGI airport which was crowded- as usual. After checking in my luggage and drifting aimlessly among a tonne of duty-free shops, I finally made it to my flight’s gate. The flight was AI 849- and apparently, it was full.

Well, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me because I, an ordinary Economy class person, got upgraded to Business class because the Economy was full!

My ride for the day- Air India’s Airbus A321 at New Delhi’s IGI Airport. Notice the Saudia B-777 and Air India’s Dreamliner in the background!

Sitting back in the comfy seat of this Airbus A321, I began thinking about the flight cancellations, the airplanes, downfall of Jet Airways- and the Indian Aviation Industry in general. Afterall, I was supposed to be flying the flag carrier of India.

So readers- put your seatbelts on, stow your carry ons away and put your gadgets on flight mode! Because we’re embarking on a journey which takes us on a ride of discovery of the Indian Aviation industry!

The Dawn of Aviation in India

Yes, it all started with the very airline that I was flying that day- Air India! Initially known as ‘Tata Air Services’, this airline baby of J.R.D Tata took off for the very first time on 15th October 1932 when Tata flew a Puss Moth Aircraft carrying Air Mail from Karachi (now in Pakistan) to Bombay (now known as Mumbai).

The airline started passenger services in 1938 when it was also re-christened ‘Tata Airlines’.

Apart from delivering mail and people to their destinations, the airline also helped the British Royal Air Force with troop movements, shipping of supplies, rescue of refugees and maintenance of aircraft during the Second World War.

Now fast forward to 1946 when Tata Airlines became a Public Limited company on the 26th of July that year and took up its present name- Air India. The Government of this newly formed nation of India went on to acquire 49% stake in 1948. Over the next few years, Air India expanded its operations, both domestically and internationally. 

Then, in March of 1953, the GoI came up with the Air Corporations Act. This act was repealed in 1994– but as you can guess, the cessation only happened after a series of happenings (well, read: mishappenings) rocked the Indian Aviation Industry.

Air Corporations Act, 1953

This Act basically nationalized the entire civil aviation industry of India. It led to a rather striking merger between Air India and the 8 pre-existing independent airlines like Deccan Airways. The entire aviation industry of the nation was thus divided in two. Indian Airlines got the entire share of the domestic traffic and some select routes to neighbouring countries like Nepal. Air India International, just as the name suggests, took charge of all the international routes. 

GoI deregulated this sector in 1991 which gave some minor scope to the private airlines. From 1991 to 1994, the private airlines could only operate charter and non-scheduled services under the ‘Air Taxi‘ Scheme of the GoI. 

This act was finally repealed in 1994. And this move led to the dawn of a new era in the Indian Aviation industry as private players could now come back to the aviation industry.

The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security

Remember the deadly crash of Air India 182 on 23rd June 1985? And also the bomb that detonated in Tokyo’s Narita Airport on the same day? It is these two tragic incidents that prompted the launch of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS)in 1987. 

This is an entire department in itself that’s attached to the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation

According to the website of the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation, BCAS performs the following duties:

  • Laying down Aviation Security Standards in accordance with Annex 17 to Chicago Convention of ICAO for airport operators, airlines operators, and their security agencies responsible for implementing AVSEC measures.
  • Monitoring the implementation of security rules and regulations and carrying out surveys of security needs.
  • Ensure that the persons implementing security controls are appropriately trained and possess all competencies required to perform their duties.
  • Planning and coordination of Aviation security matters.
  • Surprise/Dummy checks to test professional efficiency and alertness of security staff.
  • Mock exercise to test efficacy of Contingency Plans and operational preparedness of the various agencies.

Let us now get ready for landing- but our destination isn’t here yet. It’s just a layover. We’re not done with this discussion and there’s so much to talk about! So, let’s meet again in the September edition- until then, fly safe!

Madhura Joshi


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